Splash Magazines

San Francisco Bay Area Maker Faire 2016 Review - Part Burning Man, Part Science Fair, Part Boy Scout Jamboree

By Stan Sieler

View the Full Article | Return to the Site

The Maker Faire is a cross between Burning Man, a Science Fair, a Boy Scout Jamboree, and a county fair.  Or .. the Maker fair is weird and fun.




The eleventh annual San Francisco Bay Area Maker Faire was held May 20-22 at the San Mateo Event Center, in San Mateo, California. (Admission was $45 adult, $30 youth.)



From a giant mechanical squid, to Drone racing, robots battles, four foot tall living cupcakes on wheels, fire, smoke, lights, steampunk, sound, arts and crafts, from large companies to individual makers, the Maker Faire has it all.  And more.



The faire was categorized into ten zones, enabling people to easily find areas of interest ... but I'd recommend checking out everything if you attend next year's Maker Faire (or one of the other Maker Faires around the country and the world).  Budget at least two hours, but plan on four or more if you like to participate in things.  Accessibility was great ... I was on a knee stroller and had no problems visiting anything, although building did seem to lack door opening buttons.  Like a county fair, food is available throughout the fairgrounds, ranging from fair standards to African vegetarian jambalaya, choices were varied.


I enjoyed the sea salted dark chocolate ice cream from The Popnation, a small Bay Area startup.

The Faire consists primarily of booths, activities, and speakers.

The booths are occupied by commercial companies or by "do-it-yourselfers" ("makers") and are largely found in the main fairground buildings. 

Many booths had things for sale, ranging from hand-crafted electronics, to cute wool animals (Woolbuddy), to a do-it-yourself Virtual Reality goggles kit ($25 from Vrkix) now sitting on my desk, waiting to be assembled), to computers running Linux.



The woolen animals, most about 2 inches tall, were available as kits and are constructed via "felting", which was demonstrated by the makers at the woolbuddy booth.  My favorite animal was the owl.



The tastiest booth was a computer-driven pancake printer and griddle (pancakebot).  You create your pancake design on a computer, and the "printer" draws it on the griddle, using batter, and then it gets cooked!  Now, that's edible art! 

At first, it was hard to tell if the Virtual Reality goggle kit was a bargain at $25, since low-end goggles are available online for that price.  But, the opportunity to assemble your own made it worthwhile for me.  The staff at the booth certainly knew the pros and cons of the dozens of competitive goggles, and were happy to discuss them with me. 

The computer hardware and software really caught my attention. 

Computers abounded ... half were Arduino, half were Raspberry Pi, and the other ten percent various computers ... yes, it adds up to more than 100%, but that's the feeling you get at the Maker Faire sometimes!

The number of things created using Arduino or Raspberry Pi computers was astounding. 

Many vendors sold introductory computer kits with these computers, and one had a credit card size video game using the Arduino.  Another had a tiny programmable watch that had been designed by an eight-year old, Omkar (TinyCircuits).

One booth had the first BBC Micro:BIT I've ever seen in person ... it's a credit-card sized computer being given to all seventh grade students in England.  Sadly, none are available for sale, yet.  The British are trying to raise a generation of makers!

If you wanted to learn to program, many booths had entry-level programming languages and/or computers available to try ... and sometimes to buy.  You could easily find the Raspberry Pi 3, the current high-end of this tiny Linux-capable computer, for sale at several booths.  Some of the "learn to program" booths had captured a number of kids, having fun with their first programs.  At the Fisher Price booth, kids could do simple programming of a weird looking robot, making it move around on a large table. 

3-D printers have arrived ... there were probably two dozen companies with 3-D printers on display, and another dozen with laser engravers. 



The Voccell Desktop Laser System ($3500, Voccell) stood out for me ... the price included a chiller and exhaust system, something often not found (or available for extra cost).   Their booth had an intricate meter tall cardboard Eiffel Tower that they'd cut and engraved on their printer.  The cost for parts?  $2.40. 



The FLUX Delta 3-D printer was interesting...a very different form factor, and it included laser engraving, drawing, and scanning functions ($750, Flux3dp).



One 3-D printer company had a four-foot tall statue based on a 3-D scan of the founder's son.  He explained that his son was now an inch taller.  The jokester in me thought: "he probably grew the inch in the time it took to print the statue"!

One innovative company, Mosaic Manufacturing, had figured out how to do 3-D printing in color (other 3-D printers are essentially limited to a single color), and created a product that allows most existing 3-D printers to print in color (Mosaic).  Seeing a model in multiple colors instead of a single color is quite striking.

 In addition to new things ... the old was celebrated as well.  Several booths had antique computers, the largest being the Vintage Computer Federation which was advertising the Eleventh Vintage Computer Festival West (Aug 6 & 7, Mountain View, CA).  The Computer History Museum, in Mountain View, CA, had a booth, too.

Artists and makers abounded.  The "dark room" had several dozen art installations that involved light, either solely as projected light, or using illumination.  Many booths and areas had small projects suitable for children, with a lot of enthusiastic kids participating ... with activities ranging from felting to programming to soldering to piloting robots and drones.  My favorite was the man with a shirt covered with multi-color LEDs, capable of displaying many different artistic patterns.

Here, too, the "old" got a nod ... one booth was selling a kinetoscope kit for a hand-cranked old-style movie.  Better still, he had one installed in a top hat!



The activities are mostly outside, scattered around the fairgrounds, grouped by theme, although some were mobile (a Cinderella-like crystal carriage made from CDs pulled a singer through the fairgrounds).  The oddest might have been the mermaid dancing on stage, although the man-size walking wooden robot would also be in contention for that title.

One interesting area was the "fire arts", where fire-breathing creations lived.

Landau, the fire-breathing dragon ... and motorcycle ... just looked ferocious.  He's about six years old, and can frequently be found at Burning Man.



My favorite art display was Barry Crawford's giant squid.  Over 10 feet long, made out of rusty metal, it really looked like a squid from a Jules Verne movie.  Fenced in, the fence posts held cranks that visitors could turn to animate the squid's tentacles.  If no one was feeling cranky, the squid would automatically wake up and start moving its tentacles itself (via a nicely programmed Arduino).

For more pictures, check out these Facebook tags: #makefashionCA #MFBA16 #MakerFaire

Other Maker Faires, small and large, take place around the world ... including sixteen in June alone!

Photos by Stan Sieler 



Published on May 24, 2016

View the Full Article | Return to the Site