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TDL Visits Maker Faire

This past weekend, we headed to Flushing Meadows / Corona Park NY, for the second annual Maker Faire. For the uninitiated, the event brings together "makers" from, well, all over the world. A maker is essentially anyone tinkering with existing items to make something uniquely their own. While most makers focus heavily on technology and electronics, there are plenty of makers from the worlds of crafts, art, music, and even performance.

This was our first trip to Maker Faire (which is the creation of Make magazine) and so I wanted to bring you a first-timer's view of the event.

 1. Everybody loves a robot. Robots, mostly of the tiny variety were on full display. Larger bots, included MAYA, the telepresence robot created by 14 year-old Ben Hylak. When you see dozens of people with slightly different bot configurations, it feels like we're getting really close to some sort of bot breakthrough. If all the powers of the make community united they could make one mighty impressive robot.

2. This isn't your father's Microsoft. If I had told you five, heck even two years ago that Microsoft would be the darling of a hardware hacking community it would've seen absurd. Whether by design, or sheer luck (I'm going with the latter) today Microsoft finds themselves with the platform of choice for makers. Windows? Well, while Windows is used a lot, I'm referring to the Kinect. Microsoft's motion sensing/mapping/detecting accessory for the xBox 360 is now at the heart of many maker projects. Initially Microsoft scorned those who hacked their hardware. Not so now. Microsoft was even on hand to demo their Robotics Developer Studio.

3. 3D Printers Everywhere. Now what? Before Maker Faire, I think I had seen one 3D printer in person. Now I've probably seen a hundred. I find the concept of 3D printing fascintating, and it seems quite promising: Need a replacement part for something? Well, if it can be made from plastic, then you can make it with a 3D printer. Still for all the promise, and for all the spools of brightly colored plastic feeding those printers, it seemed like most uses at this stage are still novelty items. Don't get me wrong, it's a powerful tool, and a cheap way to prototype or model ideas, but I feel like there's something more, and maybe something more mainstream that will be the breakthrough use for what is still a fancy toy for many.

4. Classes/presentations are really popular. The layout of the faire consisted primarily of large tents where presentations and classes were held. I don't know if it was out of concern for inclement weather, or just a layout decision, but the result was that people were really crammed into small areas to try to hear/see presentations. Although it might not be totally in keeping with the maker philosophy, perhaps more of a theater setting with plenty of seats on a grade would make for a more comfortable experience.

5. It's great for kids, but they'll need lots of patience. We were at the faire on Saturday afternoon. At that time, there were still lines for areas like the "Learn to solder for a dollar" tent, and the free make-your-own kit presentation. As much as I loved electronics as a kid, even my patience would've been tested. And with a nearly $30 admission, parents may feel gouged if they (or their kids) don't get a chance to do the free activities. 

6. DIY is alive and well. It seems like technology companies, especially our friends at Apple, are set on making the things you buy more and more difficult to take apart. Locked down hardware and software looks like it is here to stay. But both the ingenuity of the makers and the 180 degree turn from Microsoft show that tinkerers and corporate monoliths can find a happy middle ground. If attending Maker Faire helps keep devices open for homegrown innovation, then it is well worth it.


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