2013 Maker Faire NYC Sep23

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2013 Maker Faire NYC

The setting: The New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY. The weather:  sunny and windy.  On display: a seemingly endless lineup of gear, gadgets, technology, computers, DIY projects, and strange noises. The crowd: a plethora of enthused geeks and their guests. What else could it be other than the 2013 World Maker Faire?

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Walking into Maker Faire is, to say the least, an overwhelming experience. We arrived with a plan of sorts – a plan which quickly got shredded to bits as we all suddenly turned into 12-year-olds, zipping from tent to booth to yet another shiny object with so much speed it was like someone had handed each of us a tall glass of sugar water.

Take note, Maker Faire – “So much to see, so little time” might be a great slogan for the 2014 event!

One of the first things to catch our eye was the Power Racing Series racetrack, which featured a motley lineup of homemade vehicles, some with tacked-on googly eyes and fierce claws, others with sleek Formula One-style decals, and drivers to match. After a few hilarious minutes there, watching the vehicles compete for times as they careened around the track, we decided to focus. After actually bothering to read it properly, the map became a little more clear, with the logical place to start appearing to be the Maker Pavilion.

Robots, as might be expected, were gleefully everywhere as we made our way through the crowds – everything from the most DIY (a ’70s television screen with a digital face set on an orange milk crate with remote-controlled wheels) to the more sophisticated (the Microsoft booth’s version of computerized Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, and another unidentified robot that fixed you with a glassy stare while it played back a psychedelically-colourised video of you on its stomach.)

Maker Microsoft Sock 'Em Robots

Once we finally made it there after even more distractions, including a stop for a complimentary Polaroid in front of Maker Faire’s red robot mascot, “Big Red,” we found The Maker Pavilion and next door Maker Electronics Pavilion to be two huge white tents stuffed to the rafters with eager Makers showcasing everything from computer-controlled, voicelinked puppets to DIY LED circuit boards with witty messages to a lengthy list of Arduino projects, presentations, and talks.

Maker Arduino Presentations

A couple of the coolest were on the opposite ends of the “how tech is it” scale, the first being Energia. Energia is an open-source electronics prototyping platform that combines an Arduino framework with Texas Instruments’ LaunchPad, a low-cost microcontroller board that aims to give many a less expensive entry into creating interactive objects (ie with lights, sensors, motours, etc.), which can function standalone, or be controlled by computer software. It was interesting to see the many different ways the boards could be configured into a wide range of projects.

Maker Faire Energia Systems

More low-tech but still impressive were the aptly-named SmartJars, a sleek modular storage system that combines clear, sturdy cylinders with individual “docks” for each cylinder that snap onto a pegboard – perfect for everything from electronics projects to crafting to kitchens.  Just as smart as the jars themselves were the Makers, who were giving away two jars on a mini-pegboard to encourage people to stop by and help fund their Kickstarter. We predict that they’ll be getting a call from Ikea sooner rather than later, as the design and functionality of SmartJars perfectly fit the Swedish company’s sensibilities.

Maker Pavilion was getting pretty crowded, so we decided to check out what was proving to be the Big Buzz of Maker Faire 2013:  Make 3D. As you’ve probably guessed from its name, this section of the fair showcased 3D printers of every conceivable shape and size, so many so that after a while they all started to look kind of the same. The one that really stood out to us was from MakerBot (of course), which has set the standard so far in consumer-friendly 3D printers. Their MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner, debuting at this Maker Faire event, showed off remarkably detailed models that can be created via scanning an object and then replicating it – shades of Star Trek, albeit quite a bit slower, but it’s still in the early-ish stages of this technology, and none the less impressive. With the MakerBot Digitizer, you can even scale the objects to different sizes, print more than one, or add elements that didn’t exist in the original object before. A few years from now, this should definitely transcend wow and go straight to amazing.

Next up, we headed for more (relatively-speaking) open spaces, outside of the tents for a swing around the outdoor “Rocket Roundabout,” which featured two NASA rockets from the 1960s (a Titan 2 and an Atlas) that were part of the Mercury and Gemini space programmes, although neither ever made it into space.  (The New York Hall of Science itself, we decided, would be a destination for another day, since Maker Faire already offered so much to see.)

Maker Sci Centre Rockets 2

The coffee fans and ex-baristas among us (pretty much 75% of our entire office) were looking forward to seeing the PourSteady, and with little fanfare, there it suddenly was, behind some rather tepid-sounding “Shakespearean bard singers” in the middle of one of the side concourses.

Maker PourOver Coffee Machine

A two-axis robotic coffee maker, the PourSteady’s aim is to make five pourover coffees at one time. We may have been slightly skeptical at the beginning, but not after we watched it live – a computer running Python oversees the process, which involves motion controllers to create the spiral hot water pouring patterns over the cone filters of ground coffee. The PourSteady showed off surprisingly precise control and reasonable speed that didn’t look to compromise the traditional pourover coffee process.

After all of that coffee viewing, what next but – coffee? A stop at NYC’s famed Mud Truck, on site for Maker Faire, proved a good recharge, and then it was onward to “Zone D,” which had some of the bigger-scale sideshow/carnival-type displays at the event.

A giant Mousetrap game couldn’t be missed in the middle of the field, and proved to be a crowd favourite, accurately rendered in large-scale with colourful construction, a crane-hefted and battered “NYC taxi,” and some banter between actors/game hosts. Mythbusters fans probably preferred the other “showoff” program across the way – the Coke and Mentos Stage, via which shooting fountains of Coke foam were produced by dropping Mentos mints into many, many bottles of Coke (erhm – sorry – Coke Zero, registered trademark etc.) The cheering audience approved.

The last Maker we found impressive was also in this section of the park – Hive76 (“Make things awesome – make awesome things” was their slogan.) A Maker named PJ and his cohort, who remained nameless but resembled Top Gear US host Rutledge Wood, showed off their creations, which were fantastical meldings of modern speaker, drum machine, and karaoke machine technology as embedded into such items as old suitcases, vintage-looking books, and even an antique radio. This sort of thing has, of course, “been done before,” but Hive76 does it with such precision and panache that we wanted to pilfer everything in their tent and take it with us. Nice work, guys.

Makers Hive 76 Radios 2

And with that, our Maker Faire experience was at an end. A rather gigantic Maker Shed (read: Huge Store Of Maker Branded And Related Stuff) offered souvenirs, electronics kits, t-shirts, and more, but it had been a long day, and for us, our complimentary Make Magazines and nifty assortment of collectible Maker Faire buttons were enough. We strolled back through the Hall of Science grounds, made a brief stop at The Trailer Park (a revamped aluminum mobile home with – you guessed it – an actual trees/plants/rock garden park inside), waved goodbye to Big Red, and were on our way. Thanks for the inspiration, Maker Faire – see you next year.   – Kristi Kates

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For more information on both of the major Maker Faires (NYC and the Bay Area (California)), plus mini-Maker Faires worldwide, visit them online at MakerFaire.com.