MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Halloween has always sparked creativity. With just a few bolts of clothe, scissors and a little imagination, you can turn your front lawn into a graveyard and yourself into, well, just about anything. Well, this being All Tech Considered, we're going to think bigger - a lot bigger.
As Jacob Fenston reports, for many Americans, Halloween has become a high-tech holiday.
JACOB FENSTON: Can you show me the zombie babies?
Unidentified Man: Sure, they're right over here.
FENSTON: Halloween is big business.
(Soundbite of zombie baby)
FENSTON: At stores like this one you can buy a zombie baby or an animatronic Freddy Krueger right off the shelf.
Unidentified Man: The mummified human remains, that one's on sale there for 99.99.
FENSTON: But for Halloween purists, you've got to do it yourself. And as technology gets cheaper, more people are experimenting with things like microcontrollers and movement detectors.
(Soundbite of printer)
FENSTON: That's a 3D printer. It makes plastic models based on a file on your computer.
Mr. ZACK ROTHMAN: We're printing a pumpkin, a tiny pumpkin.
FENSTON: We're at HacDC in Washington. It's the sort of club where people play with robots and lasers. Zack Rothman and Elliot Williams are making tiny plastic pumpkins and skulls for Halloween.
Mr. ROTHMAN: It just came undone.
Mr. ELLIOT WILLIAMS: Oh, game over.
Mr. ROTHMAN: We have a truncated pumpkin here.
Mr. WILLIAMS: Painfully close, I would say.
Mr. ROTHMAN: I really want to get this working.
(Soundbite of laughter)
FENSTON: Halloween is the holiday of choice for technophiles.
Mr. MARK ADAMS: It's frankly an excuse to build robots that I can enjoy with the neighbors.
FENSTON: Mark Adams is working on a pop-up alien with his daughter Meg.
Ms. MEG ADAMS: It really scares people and it's really fun to see if they have the guts to come up to our house.
FENSTON: Mark says building things with his daughters teaches them important skills.
Mr. ADAMS: Both of the girls can handle power tools. They can do soldering. They can do simple electronics assembly.
FENSTON: But some Halloween enthusiasts go beyond simple electronics, playing with technology that seems like it should be a state secret.
Mr. JEFF PARK: Okay, bring the feet over and we'll hook them on.
FENSTON: Jeff Park is wrangling a skeleton down from his attic.
Mr. PARK: This is a display that my brother and I have been doing together for almost 35 years or so.
FENSTON: It started in their front yard near Alexandria, Virginia. Since then they've expanded. They even took over the house next door. Each year, they increase the level of technological wizardry.
Mr. BRIAN PARK: This Halloween exercise is an excuse to get into different disciplines of technology.
FENSTON: Both brothers take a month off work to prepare every year and they spend thousands of dollars on new pieces and parts.
Mr. J. PARK: Some of the tools and things that we develop here are actually Halloween, get used at work.
FENSTON: Work is the U.S. Army. Jeff and Brian are both senior scientists there.
Mr. B. PARK: That robot was built for work.
FENSTON: It's a remote-controlled robot on wheels designed to disarm bombs for the military.
Mr. B. PARK: They didn't want it, so I built it for Halloween.
Mr. J. PARK: It's kind of, sort of in a way like going to graduate school.
Mr. B. PARK: Doing Halloween.
FENSTON: This year, they're expecting as many as 5,000 trick-or-treaters.
(Soundbite of printer)
FENSTON: Back in D.C., Zack and Elliot are still working on the tiny pumpkin.
Mr. ROTHMAN: Oh, does the - 'cause the two - the red and black need to go here.
FENSTON: The new part they installed in the 3D printer still isn't working right.
Mr. ROTHMAN: I think that everything, not just 3D printing, but literally everything in the world, if you just try to do it yourself, then eventually you'll succeed.
FENSTON: And eventually that night they do succeed. Around 1 a.m., the printer cranks out a perfect two inch plastic pumpkin.
For NPR News, I'm Jacob Fenston.
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