Maker Faire came to San Mateo this weekend. Inventors to tinkerers, from young to old, showed off their creations to tens of thousands of attendees. Maker Faire has been going on in the Bay Area since 2006, and is a gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors.
Here are some highlights from my weekend spent at Maker Faire.
This cool project built by 8th and 9th graders is a start to something versatile. A grid of 8 x 8 tiles are laid out and connected to each other via copper connections and to a central computer. Each tile has a set of LED lights and an Arduino.
The team programmed the Ardunios to light up the LEDs, communicate with neighbor tiles, and programmed Flow puzzles to show the potential possibilities.
They demonstrated a life-size game of the popular Flow game. The objective of the mobile game is to connect the same colored squares by drawing a line through neighboring squares, without overlapping with other colored lines.
Watching this game played in real life was fascinating. Besides the size of the gameboard, the more amazing part was the social aspect. Players, who happened to be strangers to each other, had to work together to solve the puzzle correctly.
The 8 x 8 board configuration is commonly found in other games like Chess, Checkers, and even mazes. And because each tile is a unit, this system could potentially be configured into different configurations.
The LEGO Jeep is a fun creation by Kevin Mathieu. He creates interactive artworks like the LEGO Jeep.
LEGO plates cover this Jeep with plenty of LEGO pieces laying around the vehicle. It was open to any kid who was inspired to build, or rather, make, on the vehicle.
The luminescent grand piano is a fascinating visual show of colored LED lights that are triggered as the piano is played.
Michael Gard showed off sculptures made of aluminium wire and LED lights. They are light enough to be suspended from a helium balloon. The sculptures are created by hand-weaving wire stitch-by-stitch around a solid wax form, which is melted away leaving these beautiful pieces of art.
While their name is kind of like the first experience of using an Arduino breadboard for the first time—a bit confusing—what they are trying to do is far from confusing. Using a combination of a webbased app and an Arduino kit, their simple activities walk children 7-12 (even adults may find these activities useful) years old through a variety of tasks. During the festival, I learned how to connect a wire to power a LED light. The process is taught in the webapp first, and then hands-on with the breadboard, reinforcing the concept that was just learned.
It even showed me what happens when you connect a wire incorrectly, and explained why and how it didn’t complete the circuit.
NASA was showcasing science projects from the Centennial Challenge.
Sam Ortega showed three experiments showing what being in a vacuum space can do. Using peeps, a sugary candy with lots of air, the vacuum pressure expanded the peep. When the pressure was returned to normal, the peep deflated into a flat, airless blob.
Ortega also demonstrated how water boils in a vacuum, and how a rubber glove expanded and was warm to the touch.
Cubesats were also on display, showing how satellites can be made from off the shelf cellphones, and 3D photos of rovers on Mars.
It wouldn’t be a Maker Faire without some robots among human attendees. A team of R2D2 interacted with guests looking for that perfect selfie.
ARCATTACK AND TELSA COILS
I can’t really say what was most impressive about ArcAttack and their music using two Tesla Coils and a Faraday cage. It all was equally cool to watch. Before the show, they demonstrated the process with a smaller version.
At each show, they invited several groups of four audience members up at a time to enter the Faraday cage while the band played songs with musical instruments and the lightning rods, which also produced sound.
The music was fascinating to hear, the lightning amazing to watch, and it impressive to see average people having an awesome “once in a lifetime” experience of seeing electricity up close and personal.
New this year was a demonstration of a wearable Faraday suit, which was both amazing to watch and fashionable.
EL PULPO MECANICO
If you didn’t feel the heat from the beautiful weather this weekend, then being anywhere near El Pulpo Mecanico certainly would do so. The octopus contraption shot flames from its eight tentacles and head, in rhythm to music.
The propane powered sculpture, 26 feet tall and 23 feet wide, was built on top of a donated 1973 Ford 250 4x4 using recycled and used junk found at a scrap yard.
THE MOUSE TRAP
On Sunday, Adam Savage from the popular Discovery Channel show, Mythbusters, and his son participated in a demonstration of what is called the Mouse Trap.
The Mouse Trap is a Rurb Goldberg machine, where each piece was critical in getting a bowling ball to the next piece, and ultimately to the finale, smashing a safe on a pickup nicknamed Cheezrolet.
The guys behind the Mentos and Diet Coke experiment first seen in a viral video came from their lab in Maine to show Maker Faire attendees what the experiment really feels and smells like.
They shared the story of two average guys making a video that changed their lives. Their website was about to go live when they shared the video of bottles of Diet Coke being mixed with Mentos, with someone they knew. Before they knew it, and with very little effort on their part, their video became a huge success where they are known today for their experiments.
They also shared stories about kids trying the experiment, for example, in the car, on the way to the airport, and making a huge mess. And how warm soda produces a much better fountain than cold soda. They demonstrated that between one and five Mentos are the right amount. Any more than five doesn’t produce a noticeable difference. Given the 108 bottles they had on stage, they look for simplicity wherever possible.
The nozzles are custom made from PVC and glued onto bottle caps. The other end is cut across to make a fan shape. There were also garden sprinklers used.
After the show, they gave the leftover bottles of warm, flat, and “slightly minty” Diet Coke to audience members as a souvenir. Not bad for being sprayed with non-sticky soda.