​Do or DIY: What We Saw (and Loved) at the 2017 Maker Faire

Maker and DIY Movement

​Do or DIY: What We Saw (and Loved) at the 2017 Maker Faire

By Sydney Johnson     May 22, 2017

​Do or DIY: What We Saw (and Loved) at the 2017 Maker Faire

This weekend marked San Mateo’s annual gathering of hackers, hobbyists and freak flag flyers: the Maker Faire. Back for its 12th year in the Bay Area, the Maker Faire is home to everything from drone racing, bicycle-powered music stages and even 32-foot tall towering Sextant Tesla Coils. Here are a few of our favorite DIY masters from the three-day event:

EIGHTH GRADER Miles Raneri returned for his fifth appearance and exhibition at Maker Faire. This year he was accompanied by D.A.V.E. (Da Vinci Armored Vehicle Exhibit), a re-interpretation of Da Vinci’s 15th century military tank design. Raneri said his modern tank, which sits on top of a mobility scooter, took about three months to complete, including welding the aluminum exterior and configuring the vehicle’s electric battery power.

A GIANT FIGHTING ROBOT SPORTS LEAGUE might sound like a Michael Bay movie, but at Maker Faire, we learned transformers could be tomorrow’s ESPN hit. At least, that’s what the folks at MegaBots want you to think. The team of engineers made a compelling case for their futuristic sport at Maker Faire, where they debuted the 12-ton, 430-horsepower Mk. III robot. The bot’s big appearance comes before it battles Japan’s MegaBot this August. Mk. III has a few bugs to fix before the big duel (it took a few tries before the bot could successfully punch the sacrificial Prius), but MegaBots CEO Gui Cavalcanti did not seem discouraged. “It’s Maker Faire,” he reminded the audience, “not Done Faire.”

LASERS ABOUND in the Dark Room at Maker Faire. But what caught our attention this year wasn’t the brightest or most colorful beams but the lasers with the best beats—specifically, the Laser Harp by the Stanford Optical Society (OSA), a student organization at the university. You won’t see any strings on the harp; instead the player waves his or her fingers through the invisible laser beams to set off sensors below that coordinate with a note. “People know lasers appear in spy movies,” said Stanford OSA member and biophysics candidate PhD Maurice Lee, “but often don’t realize that you can do so much more with them, like make music!”

Let’s not talk down the neon lights and bright displays in the Dark Room, though. They. Were. Awesome.

PINBALL WIZARDS bow down to Saint Joseph Notre Dame High School’s STEAM club, which presented their very own hand-made pinball machine in the Maker Faire expo hall this weekend. The table is more than one year in the making. Senior Rosie Compton explained the group worked with the local Pinball Museum in Alameda to figure out some of the more technical elements like soldering wires for the score counter and circuitry. “It’s a rat’s nest of wires if you look underneath,” she laughed. The group was also showcasing their “air hockey meets pinball” spin-off game, which club moderator and art teacher Andy McKee explained the students both designed and built after honing pinball-making chops.

COMBINE CRAFTSPEOPLE AND ASTRONOMISTS and you’ll likely arrive at the Chatbot telescope maker’s workshop at the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland. This weekend volunteers from the center were teaching curious space-gazers how to grind and polish their own telescope mirror, “the longest part of the telescope-making process,” explained volunteer Alan Roche. The free workshop meets every Friday, and Roche said it usually takes a dedicated maker about one year to complete from start to finish.

THE BAY AREA LEGO USERS GROUP was out in full force at Maker Faire, with an entire city, theme park and naval ship on display (all made out of legos, of course). Collectively the project was made up of more than 80,000 bricks weighing nearly 150 pounds, and its total setup at Maker Faire took nearly 10 hours to complete. Most importantly, one member named Marshmallow noted, “there are no kits involved; this is all created by imagination.”

GLASS BLOWERS AND BLACKSMITHS from Oakland-based industrial arts school the Crucible were welding, hammering and firing away outside the expo hall. The facility hosts classes for kids and adults including metal moulding, glass flameworking, electronics and jewelry making. “We teach people how to use these tools so they can go off and do their own projects,” said Nate Chandler, who teaches electrical engineering at the Crucible.

FIRE EATERS? Yep, they were there too.

Photos by Sydney Johnson

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