Mon., October 25, 2010 4:07pm (EDT)

High-Tech Ghouls Haunt Stores, Homes
By Jacob Fenston
Updated: 3 years ago

A programmable LED pumpkin at hacker space HacDC, in Washington, D.C., designed by member David Kaufman. Many Halloween purists prefer to design, rather than buy, high-tech ghouls, goblins and ghosts.
Halloween has always sparked creativity: White sheets become ghosts and front lawns become graveyards.

But these days, the holiday is going high-tech, with stores selling zombie babies or animatronic Freddy Krueger dolls right off the shelf. It's a big business.

Halloween purists, however, prefer the DIY approach. And as technology gets cheaper, more people are experimenting with things like microcontrollers and movement detectors.

DIY Skulls And Pumpkins

Halloween is the holiday of choice for technophiles and at a hacker space called HacDC in Washington, D.C., it's not unusual to see people playing with robots and lasers.

Zack Rothman and Elliot Williams are hard at work at the club, making tiny plastic pumpkins and skulls for Halloween using a 3D printer.

"It's frankly an excuse to build robots I can enjoy with the neighbors," says Mark Adams, who's working on a pop-up alien with his daughter, Meg.

Meg Adams says the alien "really scares people and it's really fun to see if they have the guts to come up to our house."

Mark Adams says building things with his daughters teaches them important skills: "Both of the girls can handle power tools. They can do soldering [and] they can do simple electronics assembly."

Skeletons In The Attic And Stealth Technology

But some Halloween enthusiasts go beyond simple electronics and tinker with technology that seems like it should be a state secret.

Jeff Park retrieves a skeleton from his attic.

"This is a display that my brother and I have been doing together for almost 35 years or so," he says.

It started in their front yard, near Alexandria, Va., but has since expanded to the house next door. Each year, the brothers increase the level of technological wizardry.

"This Halloween exercise is an excuse to get into different areas and disciplines of technology," says Brian Park.

A Month Of Preparation

Both brothers take a month off work to prepare every year -- and they spend thousands of dollars on new pieces and parts.

"Some of the tools and things we develop here, actually at Halloween, get used at work," Jeff Park says. The two brothers are senior scientists for the U.S. Army.

One of their remote-controlled robots on wheels was designed to disarm bombs for the military.

"They didn't want it, so I built it for Halloween," Brian Park explains.

This year, they're expecting as many as 5,000 trick-or-treaters to visit their high-tech haunted house. [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]