Silicon Valley’s festival of fascination celebrates its 10th anniversary with a bang as the Maker Movement gives rise to a new generation of technology tinkerers.
It became clear during the third weekend in May just how widespread the Maker ethos has become. At the 10th annual Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif., the birthplace of the techno-mechanical carnival, the do-it-yourself craze stretched to the edges of the earth, sea, sky and space, driven by curiosity, ingenuity and the availability of easy-to-use yet powerful computing technologies.
Featuring everything from home-brewed Kombucha to battling robot cars and the ubiquitous soldering workshop, Maker Faire is equal parts inspiring and awesome. It brings out the wonder in anyone who ever dreamed of cooking up their own gizmos, gadgets and rocket ships.
Maker Faire is massive, requiring more than the three days allotted to explore every nook and cranny. There were robot battleships wars, remote control car races, autonomous flying and creepy crawling objects, and mood-changing illuminated trees. There were many new computerized experiments powered by Intel Edison technology, which first hit the scene at last year’s Maker Faire.
While the Intel Edison board-powered dancing spider troupe, giant blinking giraffe and time-traveling pirate ship stirred the imagination, it’s the infectious ideas behind transformative designs that reveal almost anything is possible if you put your mind to it.
While definitively lo-fi, Lego is an excellent entry point for young makers. Pley is a two-year old company that is like the Netflix of Lego.
“Our CEO got tired of spending $100.00 for a Lego set and then seeing it sit on the shelf,” said Thomas D. Martino, Pley’s Director of Growth. “He immediately saw a demand for renting sets.”
Pley’s model has two tiers: subscribers either pay $19.99 a month for sets up to 750 pieces or $49.99 a month bigger sets. A box is delivered to the door; after the kids are finished playing with it, you just ship it back and get your next set.
The company raised $7 million in 2014 and in January of this year raised another $10 million. Pley is also dabbling in crowdsourcing new designs. People upload their designs to Pleyworld.com and if deemed worthy by public vote, Pley will then develop the set.
The spirit of sharing led Alex Hornstein to start Looking Glass Factory, which sells programmable, WiFi-enabled LED Cubes.
Much like 3D printing, LEDs are a mainstay of the maker world, and as their prices dropped and the simplicity of programming increased, creativity has bloomed.
The 8-inch cube sells for $300.00. It’s WiFi accessible and programmable via laptop.
“We’ve built CubeTube, it’s like YouTube and Thingaverse for Cubes,” said Hornstein. “The greater goal is developing a culture around 3D display. You could build the best display system in the world, but it’s useless without anything to show on it.”
The Yellow Delta Robot Army is another example of the unique way the maker movement is using open-source sharing. Built using open source theater software, the Robot Army is made up of 85 individual ‘robots’ that have three separate motors each of which can pivot 120 degrees.
Fans can buy a Robot Army Starter Kit, then find innovative ways to program it.
The Quick Draw Bot built by Matthew Havlovick and Cory Gano exemplifies the Maker Faire’s can-do spirit.
After his partner saw a drawing machine at last year’s event and expressed interest in buying it, Havlovick said, “No we can make it.”
Since he’d made an Etch-A-Sketch before, he thought he’d be able to make a drawing machine.
Now, a year later, he’s got the Quick Draw Bot up and running. Once it’s been programmed, it can create an image in about 10 minutes. The number of dots per second can be controlled, but as the number reaches 50 dots per second, it becomes transfixing.
The Startup Tent at Maker Faire always yields glimpses of what the future holds, and this year was no exception.
Dash Robotics started as a crowdfunding campaign by a bunch of UC Berkeley PhD students. The easy-to-build robots kits ($49) let users assemble laser cut pieces then program the robot’s behaviors. The project brings a taste of robotics to an ever larger crowd by simplifying construction and programming.
The Zeus All in One Robotics Printer hints at the future with the first one-stop 3D printing experience, which lets users scan, edit and print all with the same device.
Demonstrated in an above-ground swimming pool, OpenROV’s controllable underwater rover can go to a depth 250 feet. Able to stream HD video via an ultra-thin tether to a laptop on the surface, it can monitor divers or go deeper as they probe the undersea depths.
Other fun things at Maker Faire are the myriad school projects, such as the Ajax Exosuit from students at San Francisco’s Bay School. The exosuit is powered by pneumatic pressure and able to lift up to 400 pounds. The developers were inspired by sci-fi movie Elysium. There’s few things in this world more inspiring than watching young scientists nerd out as they narrate their hit-and-miss development process.
After a decade of exploration, imagination and innovation, it’s clear the maker movement is no longer just for science geeks and technophiles. As the movement grows around the world — at Maker Faires from New York and Rome to Singapore and Seoul — it’s apparent the next decade will serve up ever more mind-blowing celebrations of technology.
This story contributed by Todd Krieger.