What's one part country fair, one part art festival, a side of Burning Man and an educational, geek-filled fun-fest? Maker Faire! We went to the Bay Area Maker Faire this past weekend, and overdosed on creative, inspiring DiY technology. Here's what we saw.
Want to spend an afternoon ogling mind-blowingly huge, fire-breathing robotic sculptures? Maker Faire's got that.
Robot Resurrection has appeared at multiple Maker Faires — it's a 30-foot tall pneumatic robot built almost entirely out of recycled metal and aeroplane parts. It's a massive art project created with Burning Man in mind. It moves. It lights on fire. It's amazing, but it's not the only fire breathing sculpture you'll find at the Faire.
Metal sculptor Todd Cox's Praying With Fire stands proudly, arms raised, in the middle of Maker Faire's outdoor area — spewing endless plumes of fire into the air.
Too stationary for your liking? Fine. How about giant walking robots:
Scott Parenteau's "Walking Pod" is a walking geodesic dome. A twelve-legged, solar powered robot. Its 0.2 MPH top speed won't outpace the average person, but its slow crawl is hauntingly beautiful.
See that contraption up there? That's a MegaBot — a functional, weaponised mech that debuted at Bay Area Maker Faire 2015. It takes two pilots to operate and is designed to destroy ...in a controlled, entertainment-focused environment, of course. At the Faire, it had one mission: blow the shit out of an unsuspecting car.
It's an incredible feat of engineering and MechWarrior dream fulfillment — but the best part is that it's only a prototype. The team that built the MegaBot are working on two-legged models that can stand and balance on their own. The end goal? An entire fleet of human-driven mechs locked in combat in your local arena. This is the future of sports, people.
Speaking of sports ... This may seem like a calm, peaceful place to sail your radio-controlled boat, but it's not. This is a watery battleground:
Make Faire's Battlepond is the home of hobbyists who spend months painstakingly building replica WWII battleships only to destroy them for the amusement of the attending public.
Not only are these ships pretty detailed, they're also all armed with ball-bearing cannons. Awesome — and a little dangerous. You have to sign a liability waiver and don safety googles before you can enter the arena.
You didn't think that giant fire breathing robot was the only super-sized art piece to grace Maker Faire, did you? Of course not: the event's outdoor plaza is littered with large, creative works of art.
Celestia Mechanica is an enormous, Kickstarter-backed Kinetic sculpture of our solar system with a flame-licked furnace representing our sun. You can watch a recreation of the celestial ballet while you warm up.
Did I mention that a lot of the artwork is ridable? Because it is. The above piece, called Rhino Redemption, is a converted '74 Chevy pickup truck that shoots flames out of its main horn.
Not quite a landlubber, but don't have sea legs? Check out the Nautilus Submarine Art Car, complete with a digital periscope and roof-mounted harpoon guns.
There's tons of interactive art at Maker Faire too, including:
A human powered, spinning swing set...
A miniature, pedal-powered ferris wheel...
Scooter-driven chalk stencils...
Dangerous high-five competitions...
...and even live music on a pedal-powered stage. That's right, all of that is being powered by all of this:
See, you can be part of the music.
All that alone makes Maker Faire more than worth the day trip, but it's just the tip of the iceberg: there's way, way more.
Make Faire is way more than a technology-focused art festival: it's also a breeding ground for new ideas and armature implementations of new technology trends. OK, that Delorean Time Machine may not be futuristic these days (or even all that movie accurate) it represents our ambition to move forward. Besides, this awesome homemade electric vehicle was parked right behind it:
Yes, it's exactly what it looks like — some crazy bastard crammed an electric motor into an old Miata. Patrick Makey spent almost $US14,000 converting this 1992 Miata into a modern electric vehicle.
The batteries in its trunk cost Makey $US7,000 on their own — but the conversion still cost him less than buying an electric car new. It's a fine example of the passion Makers have: if you can't afford to buy the technology you want to ride into the future, build it yourself.
In fact, tons of makers attend the Faire just to show off things they have made for the love of building the future they want.
Ever thought you might want a Keurig machine, but for mixed drinks? Someone's making it.
Tired of opening and closing your air vents? Someday, they could be controlled by your phone.
Itching to check out that cool thing you saw on Kickstarter? If you went to a Maker Faire, you might have been able to.
The Faire is simply a great place to make connections, get ideas and meet up with like minded folks who want to build the world of tomorrow from out of their garage.
Marvel at home-made, laser-cut wooden robots, like Roy.
Immediately run away in terror.
...and then join a HomeBrew Robotics Club and learn to make your own amazing, hopefully less creepy automatons.
Maker Faire is inspiring. Go to marvel at the future that's being built — and if you aren't personally inspired? Don't worry about it. Sit back, relax, and take in an areal drone battle or two:
Or you can visit the past.
Maker Faire isn't just a showcase of the technology we're building for tomorrow, but also a museum for the technology that brought us to today.
Remember floppy disks? These guys do. Maker Faire can be the odd chance to reconnect with your home computing past...
...or a chance to show it off to the next generation.
The Maker Faire Expo is littered with old hardware. Some, like Evan Custodio's FPGA-assisted SNES digital graphics renderer re-purpose old favourites...
...while others, like Briel Computers, allow you to re-create classic PCs from new parts. Can't get your hands on an original, 1976 Apple 1? Build a fully functional replica, instead.
Maker Faire is for everyone — but there's no better place to take your kids to get them excited about merging arts, crafts and technology. I don't just mean playing with an incredible, Lego covered jeep either: Maker Faire is littered with activities designed to get your child's brain working.
Kids can work with instructors from TechShop Inside to build their own laser-cut Trebuchets.
They can participate in Rube Goldberg speed building contests, challenging them to think fast to build an intentionally over-complicated balloon popping machine.
Love pirate ships and craft arts?
Build your own fleet with Sticky Art Lab.
At Maker Faire, kids learn to solder and prototype their own home-made electrical toys.
They can geek out at Minecraft summer camp and build massive in game structures...
...or use the game as a platform to teach them to build their own Rasberry Pi-based gaming hardware.
There are compressed-air rocket building workshops.
Larger-than-life Bop-It games!
Giant Lego Kermit sculptures!
FREE SAFETY GOOGLES. What's not to like?
If you aren't convinced, there's no hope for you. Maker Faire is one of the coolest local events you take your family to. It's a blast to go on your own, with friends and especially with children. There may only be few flagship Faires a year, but smaller, local events can be found all over the world. Check one out. You won't regret it.