Sunday, August 1, 2010

Maker Faire: Detroit 2010

The Maker Faire has come to Dearborn, Michigan. This is, as far as I know, the first time this fair(e) of do-it-yourselfers who love to build mechanical and electrical and all sorts of other things has left the San Francisco Bay area. Makers are people who like to build things, to tinker with hardware, make robots, bild air launching marshmellow shooters, design and fabricate Rube Goldberg machines of considerably size, and so much more. Their is a sense of overwhelming creativity and a desire to affect the word that permeates the whole event. Not only can you see and sometimes interact with the things being shown off but you can learn how to build your own devices too.

I joined my friends Lar and Marla with their baby Andrew to spend a part of Saturday at the Maker Faire. We just wanted to wander around and see what we could see and we were not disappointed. Seing people create interesting and sometimes unusual or quirky things is just plain fun. You have to smile when you see are blue car covered in a couple hundred robotic fish and lobster that are all wired into the vehicle's electrical system and do strange things at the behest of the driver. Or you can find yourself watching a group of people in fire suits working with fresh molten metal. I wish my battery had not long since died because filming those people pouring molten metal from a hand cauldron that required six of them to shift and pour into molds. I wonder what they were going to do with that molten metal. Of course, seeing strange vehicles like Big Dog (or is it Dawg) which is a four-person bike with flame throwers that fire flames several feet up into the air; or, the seven or so person multi-wheel bike that has people sitting in a circle each pedaling to propel the bike with one person steering. I got to ride that and it was fun. That was built by one father who built three of these bikes that people could pedal around the fair. I wish I could have tried the two-wheel bike that looked like a hamster wheel with a person sitting recumbent style pedaling away. On the other hand the monocycle motobike look terrifying and I don't think anyone who didn't already have extensive motorcycle experience should give that thing a shot though the guy I saw driving it wasn't even wearing a helmet.

Some people clearly have a sense of whimsy. The fellow who had the idea to build a swing with a fountain falls into this group. I got to try this one out. As you swing back and forth the fountain would throw water as any good fountain does but as you approached the low-point of your swing the fountain would stop and you would not, usually anyway, get wet. I guess the timing was a bit off because I did get somewhat damp though hardly soaked. The fellow I talked with just had the idea to do this and got friends together to help him build the swing set, fountain, and sensors that controlled the spray (using the angle of the swinger to tell when to turn things on and off). That was fun.

We had a great time exploring and seeing what things people built. The biofeedback based flame thrower from Canada was interesting. The Power Racing Series was intriguing especially when you realize that those little electric kid sized cars are only meant to hold about 120-130 pounds and these builders are souping them up for adults to race. I wish I had tried one out. Then, of course, their are the great machines like the life-size Mouse Trap modeled directly off the old game that you probably played with as a kid. This trap was built to crush a car. They needed five days to assemble the cranes, gantries, stairs, trebuchet, cast-iron bathtub, and two-ton weight that would crush the van. They would fire this thing off a few time during the day and the Astro van was looking pretty smutted when I got to see it. This is a machine that required a dedicated person with passion to design and build. That's impressive when you learn this has been in development for years.

Posted via email from Ken Knight's posterous

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