A Maker Faire 2015 'show and tell'

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Shawn Gaynor's picture
Robot sculpture at maker fair
Now in its tenth year, Maker Faire continues to inspire a community of curiosity. Photo by Xochitl Bernadette Moreno.

By Shawn Gaynor

Attending the Bay Area Maker Faire is a hard experience to explain. It is like a Mr Magorium's Wonder Emporium come to life through the participation of at least a 1,000 DIY artists, inventors and visionaries who bring their projects out for a public exhibition before the events 100,000 visitors. After 10 years, the “largest show and tell on Earth” has assembled “makers,” DIY creators of physical things, into a global community of open source innovations.

"There are lots of passionate people in the world, and when you put them together it creates an energy that you can feel," Maker Faire founder Dale Dougherty said of the events electric crackle of creativity.

The huge variety of people the event has brought together and inspired is monumental. Tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, and students all feel represented by the notion of being a maker. There is no way to present even a fraction of the creative projects assembled together at the Bay Area Maker Faire by self-motivated creators and innovators. Here are a few projects out of this year's sea of creativity, that illustrate what it means to be a maker.

The Great Fredini's Coney Island Scan-A-Rama

3D printing has become a Maker Faire highlight. Each year people present new innovations at the fair that expand the scope of what 3D printing can achieve. Some people are printing jewelry, some are printing drone components, someone printed an ear, but Fred Kahl wants to print you.

“The idea is that we are the portrait studio of the future. We have an open source hardware design we have created. In about 60 seconds we have a 3D scan of you,” Kahl explained.

Step right up, click your heels, spin three times, and your 3D portrait is ready to start printing. Hold still and what will appear is your perfect likeness ready to be printed as a 4 inch color plastic action hero printed from the feet up.

Print speed is still an issue with the young 3D printing industry, so the days of the arcade style photo booth are not quite here yet, but after being scanned, Kahl will print up your likeness and send it to you.

Even more far out, he is recreating a famous bygone era of Coney Island, New York's history in a massive scale model, all 3D printed. If your in Coney Island, visit Kahl and look for Outsider Multi-media editor Xochitl Berneddette Moreno holding her camera somewhere in the crowded, plastic printed recreation of Coney Island's boardwalk scene.

The Ajax ExoSuit

Including young makers has been a focus of the Maker Faire from the start. Rising in part out of the Burning Man community, the event represents a family friendly venue to see the art cars and massive fire breathing sculptures iconic of burner culture.

But with the fair in its tenth year now, young people who were exposed the event over the years return with inventions of their own. And some of those inventions are really, outstandingly cool. Like, hover skateboard cool.

OK, So these kids didn't build a hover skateboard (yet), but the team of high school friends who developed the AJAX Exosuit  nailed it if your a fan of the movie Aliens, where Signorina Weaver fights a massive space bug with a robotic assisted movement suit.

These kids saw that, and stared building. Slip into backpack straps, secure Velcro at the ankles and the arms, and your strapped into the steel welded frame and ready to use your super human strength. Hydraulics pistons move the suit, lifting legs and swinging arms with the strength of a forklift.

“We went though different actuation method, different sensing methods until we finally decided on pneumatics and these force sensitive resistors,” said Cole Yarbrough

Sensors allow the Exosuit to smoothly follow that natural movement of your legs for walking. Take a step and the suit steps with you. The suits arms are controlled at your fingertips, activated though hacked gaming controllers.

An Arduino micro-controller acts as the exo-suits brains, integrating the sensors and the hydraulic pistons.

Watch out space bugs, the teenagers of Earth are ready.

Build it yourself robot kits

The accessibility of home built robotics seems to have taken a leap since last years Maker Faire. Construction robots there move piles of sand, foretelling the replacement of the bobcat operator, an open source 3D android is expanding in popularity, art robots like Chris Farris' “Robots That Suck” capture the imagination, while “being robots” emulating spiders and insects scurry under foot.

Among all this, and supported by a growing community of robot hobbyists, modular kits of robot components have found their way to the market and are being assembled and customized for everything from home projects to scientific research and industrial applications.

Leading that wave of offering modular and accessible kit components to build your own robots is DFRobot. Founder Jose Galvex explained the concept.

“We provide platform robots for the grownup, for academics, for research. There are all kinds of components and modules, and they are all modular, so with no knowledge you can start building your own kinds of robotics,” said Galvex.

DFRobot has quickly risen from a concept project to a veritable Radio Shack of off the shelf robot components and seems to represent an accessible starting point for anyone looking to begin building robots of their own right away, and their web forums on robotics help with trouble shooting and spreading new ideas.

The rise of the machines is here.

Irrigating with ancient oya pots

It's important to remember that being a maker encompasses more than creating high-tech gadgets. There are clever maker creations that are pedal powered. Most maker creations are handmade and makers love to create up-cycled products turning trash to treasures.

Admittedly, the fair has grow more high-tech over the years in some ways, as it has popularized public use of 3D printing, drones, robots, and Arduinos. Simultaneously though, it has brought in more organic, low tech, and traditional technologies as the Maker Faire has spread over the last decade to become a truly worldwide movement.

Exhibitions about raising honey bees are at the Maker Faire, displays of what plants create the best colors for natural dyes are at the Maker Faire.

There among the home canned pickles and the natural fiber clothes, was an idea the should change the way gardening takes place in the harsh California drought. Its called an oya pot and Nicole Easterday of Farm Curious has become a believer.

The concept is simple. A terra-cotta pot with a narrow top is buried in the garden with just the neck reaching above the soil. Rather than plant inside the pot, it is filled with water that slowly leaches out to plants rooted in the surrounding soil outside the pot. A lid keeps out bugs and slows evaporation. The size of the pot determines the spacing in garden beds, with the larger pots watering about a 3 foot diameter.

“The water is provided from under the surface of the soil rather than on the top, so you avoid a couple of problems. Because there is no evaporation like top watering so you are able to conserve water, which is a big problem right now for California,” said Nicole Easterday.

The idea very old, but very efficient. Easterday has found it substantially more efficient that even drip irrigation systems. According to Easterday, the pots where used by both Roman and Chinese farmers in ancient times and the method persists to some degree in Mexico and South America in the present day. But it is an old idea that is ready for its day again for all the California makers digging in the garden this summer.

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