I visited the National Maker Faire 2016 at the University of DC. There were throngs of people at each exhibit, and the technology that people made was a real joy to look at; there were devices that did useful work, devices meant only to amuse, and everything in between at the event.
One thing that struck me about the Maker Faire was how it merged the world of software with the world of physical things. In a world where there’s always a new app for something, the Maker Faire showed that advancing computer technology did not have to push us further into our screens, with interaction limited to tapping and pinching. Things, real things, could be made that had a far more tangible impact than the smartphone or tablet ever could.
Here are the exhibits I visited:
The Arduino is an Intel-created microcontroller mostly intended for simple applications. The presenter explained that it is often used for automating home appliances, as well as for motion detection. Its main strength is that it uses Bluetooth and can communicate with smartphones and computers. The microcontrollers can even detect one another.
It was pretty much an average foosball table, though I think it was supposed to keep score electronically. Didn’t seem to be working.
It waters your plants with the right amount of water, at the right times. However, you do have to tell it which plant is which; it cannot automatically detect plant types.
EPILOG’S ETCHING MACHINE
A company called Epilog brought along a pretty cool engraving device, which could be used to carve images and lettering into wood, whether shallow (first picture) or deep (second picture). Their more advanced models could do the same for metal.
The 3Doodler functions like a safe glue gun, allowing the creation of simple 3D structures. It’s like drawing into the air.
MOLESKINE SMART WRITING SET
Moleskine, a maker of paper notebooks, released a “smart writing” set that works with an iOS or Android app to computerize what you write into a specially-designed notebook. Surprisingly, its optical character recognition could not only recognize my print handwriting, but also cursive writing as well! It was a really wonderful piece of hardware.
I got to use a Raspberry Pi machine to make a pattern of lights do things. Raspberry Pi computers are made to be easy to program so that even a young child can create something useful with it; however, it is not a children’s toy, but a serious computing device. The model I was being shown ran Windows 10.
I got to see a 3D printer by Tiertime. 3D printers use a special plastic on a spool to create objects, but the process takes far longer than paper printing. All manufacturing now designs products by computer, so 3D printers allow the design to be inspected as a physical object. The presenter explained that these devices not only had use for manufacturing, but also for teaching younger children about the manufacturing process since power tools and factory equipment are far too dangerous for children to use.
VEX Robotics is a lot like Lego’s Mindstorms line, but a bit more complex. It allows the user to create their own robots, whether human-controlled or fully autonomous. The designs exhibited were simple, but it was pretty clear that you could build extremely complex things with the set.
I strapped on the Oculus goggles to get a feel for what virtual reality would look like. Though the graphics they showed were not the most advanced, I thought it looked nice; I was even able to look around. However, the lack of tactile feedback did feel a bit disorienting, which is why I don’t think VR’s time has arrived yet.
I’ll definitely go to future Maker Faire events if I am able. It’s pretty amazing what these people were able to do.