I was well impressed by the creativity and creations at the 2016 Maker Faire, held in Queens, NY on October 1 & 2.
tl;dr (AKA Cliff Notes):
- Fully functional R2-D2 is more awesome in person than I would’ve imagined.
- There are more and more and more ways of making at home, to the point that at some point (though not soon) production ability will be everywhere
- There are some incredible kids out there.
What is Maker Faire? Well, from their website:
Maker Faire is part science fair, part county fair, and part something entirely new! As a celebration of the Maker Movement, it’s a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness. Faire gathers together tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, food artisans, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors. Makers come to show their creations and share their learnings. Attendees flock to Maker Faire to glimpse the future and find the inspiration to become Makers themselves.
Many mini Maker Faires are held throughout the country at various times, but the two big ones are in New York City and San Francisco. I’d wanted to get to the NYC one for many years, but I hadn’t until this year.
There were, of course, many 3D printer booths, showing off printers themselves and the objects they created. There was a Hogwarts Castle, a 3D-printed hand that grips using only the movement of a wrist, and a compact, high-detail printer.
One of the most interesting, though, was an XXL format 3D printer from Wasp (We Are Self Producer) that while I was there, was in the process of printing a full-size chair.
At the subtractive end of the production spectrum, ShopBot was exhibiting its small wood-cutting CNC machines, and Tormach was showing off its “personal” CNC machine, which runs $25,000. Shaper Origin is an interesting spin on CNC machines, as it requires a user to push around a board, but it somehow does precise cutting.
Along the same lines as the CNC units were the booths showing off the Wazer, which uses water to cut material, and the Glow Forge, which uses a laser for cutting. The Wazer can cut materials like metal, porcelain, and glass, with tight precision. The Glow Forge can cut many materials but also etch into leather, paper, etc.
Along with these machines were a number of companies offering to manufacture custom designs. PCBNG will make your electronics for you, and Voodoo will quickly fulfill your 3D print needs. I will researching these companies further.
PCB:NG is a new, Brooklyn-based service specializing in inexpensive low volume electronics manufacturing, just announced that they’re accepting beta requests for their service. PCB:NG’s mission is to make ordering assembled electronics as simple as any ecommerce experience, with prices competitive with China, and minimum order sizes starting at around just 25 units. This is, like, totally revolutionary. And they’re doing manufacturing right here in New York – in Crown Heights to be exact.
There a number of impressive kids who had their own booths. There was a girl who was using light switches and light bulbs to illustrate how computers use binary code in binary code (didn’t take a picture because my jaw was at the floor). Two boys were showing their home-made arduino-based saxophone to teach how to play; it only plays while blowing air through “reed”. One of my favorites, though, was the girl who had constructed a self-playing guitar with solenoids that put pressure on the frets and a belt that strums the pick across the strings. Her schoolmates were developing a “water-switch” that activates a water hose only when the humidity sensor in the soil is low enough. If that doesn’t float your boat, there was a group making hovercrafts out of plywood, plastic tarps and battery-powered leaf blowers (get it?).
There were real products at the Faire, too. Walabot, a sensor that “sees” behind walls; Sensel, an interchangeable, pressure sensitive input pad; and ESLOV IoT, a modular Internet of Things creation set, by the man behind the Arduino. Interestingly, all three of these, though prototypes have already been produced, are all in the Kickstarter phase of development. In other words, despite the large investment already made in these products, they still need a lot more to get out to the market. It will be interesting to follow these in the future.
One thing I was very interested in learning about while at the Faire was Arduino and Raspberry Pi, two very low-cost computers. I came across Ready Set Stem, which is a company that was selling a kit which contained a Raspberry Pi, a clear case, a breadboard with components to experiment, and onboard tutorial on how to get the computer to control external components like lights and respond to external inputs. I bought one of the kits and will be reporting back on it.
Google was there, because they’re everywhere. They were holding soldering classes where you made a pin that lights up that looks like a hot air balloon.
There was fun, too. A party bike is always a good time, and someone has produced a tiny (and I mean tiny) video arcade. I shoulda bought one. Meccano had a booth. I’d never heard of Meccano, but makes me want to be a kid and trade in all my lego. And of course there was drone racing, because drones.
And, of course, R2-D2.