The worst thing about the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire… is that it only happens once a year. I’m not even going to try to cover everything I saw this past Saturday — instead, I’ll share some photos and point out some of the things that caught my eye and some of the things that grabbed the attention of my six year old son, Decker.
The event was held at Georgia Tech on the Tech Green, a football field-sized area right in the heart of the campus. Booths were setup around the perimeter, with the big green grassy area open for kids to run and catch frisbees being flung from a robot and launch their handmade paper rockets. There were 3D printers galore, robots, artists, homeschooler groups, hackerspaces/makerspaces, inventors, hobbyists, and much more. I believe I made at least six passes between 10am (when it opened) and 1pm when my son was dropped off — if a booth or display was too busy, I just caught it on the next lap. I also took a few notes so that I’d remember where to bring my son back for the various kids activities.
Let me start near the “entrance” if you can call it that… near the registration booth was a teacher-friend of mine named Fred… he had come prepared for 100s, if not 1000s of kids. He had three lanes of special plywood track created with a CNC machine so that the kids cloud create a small racer (free!) and decorate it to their hearts content. They started with a small rectangle of plastic and stopped at one table to get the four screws, washers, and spacers that would make the wheels. Then came the body. Three shapes – wedge, race car, or truck — were printed on card stock for kids or parents to cut out and fold and glue to the base at another table with hot glue guns. Finally, kids moved to the decoration table that had pens, pipe cleaners, and stickers to jazz up their car. And then it was on to the race. The kids were amazingly polite and patient, and races went fast. Decker won his very first race against two other cars and he was very pleased. Fred… great job!
What else did my son get to do while he was there? Let’s see… he got to make his own 5×5 inch square of paper, got to use a letterpress machine to make his own postcard, got to make homemade slime, and met Brett, the creator of a new app called Blokify (to be released in December) that will let him design his own Minecraft-like structures using 1cm blocks and then print them out on my 3D printer. A friend of mine, JD, who designed a remote control lawn mower (that was featured on the cover of Make magazine Volume 22) let Decker take a mini-robot for a spin so he could understand what it was like “driving” the RC lawn mower.
Decker got to watch a real blacksmith at work, sit in the Steam Car, and check out a mini-Drone. Twice we returned to Fred’s racing area, though… Decker just couldn’t stay away, and I’ll hazard a guess that well over 1000 kids built cars that day… maybe much higher.
I had my own fun, too. I got to meet all sorts of inventors and tinkerers, and I could spend hours picking their brains and listening to them talk about their stuff. For example, I got to spend about 10 minutes chatting with Giacomo Strollo, President of SmartJars. He had come all the way from San Diego to demo his invention and talk about his Kickstarter. I was impressed enough with the design that I’m now a backer. He’s created a storage system that will work perfectly in my workshop that has many walls lined with pegboard. The bases snap into the pegboard with nice solid click… and the see-through jars have a lip around the edge that also snaps into the base with a solid click. And then each jar has a pop-top lid. It’s one of those “why didn’t I think of that” ideas, and I cannot wait to get mine… head over to his Kickstarter page to check it out. It was great meeting you, Giacomo, and I wish you luck with your fundraising!
Looking for something fun and inexpensive to do indoors with your child now that the weather is getting colder? Check out paperrollercoasters.com and grab a kit or DVD. This thing was light as a feather, but very sturdy. Drop a marble into the top and watch it zigzag and spin down the various levels. I’ve seen this done in plastic before, but this paper version lets kids actually examine the materials and play with the layout. I was too busy to get back to the booth before it was time to go, but I’m sold on buying the DVD with the plans so I’ll be able to print out as much stuff as I like… check out the website to see some crazy designs!
Maker Media had a Mini Maker Shed there, staffed by former Georgia Tech student Eric W. who is now a full-time employee… congrats, Eric, and it was good to see you again! Right next door to the shed was the booth where kids could learn to solder… Decker didn’t want to wait in the (not really that) long line, but he made me promise him that we’d get out the soldering tools and solder up the $1 Makey the Robot (with blinking eyes).
In another corner of the Tech Green was the STE(A)M truck, Atlanta’s first Mobile Makerspace that is going to be making the rounds at various middle schools. The doors were open for visitors to walk in one end and out the other, looking at the various tools they were assembling. Some Atlanta-area kids are going to have some great hands-on opportunities in the very near future.
So much more to do and see, but I think you get the idea. I don’t have any numbers (yet) on the overall attendance, but if I can track them down I’ll post a comment here with that data. One thing was for sure… it was PACKED. It was great to see so many parents and kids and grandparents and teachers… it’s just an amazing experience, and I hope that you can do a search and find a nearby Mini Maker Faire of your own. Point a web browser to http://makerfaire.com/map/ and see what will be in your area in the near future.
The Atlanta Mini Maker Faire has only got me more excited about the Maker Faire 2014 in San Mateo, California next year. I was unable to attend this year after going the two previous years, but I don’t plan on missing the 2014 experience.
If any of you were able to attend the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire on Saturday, do post a comment and share your thoughts. I’d love to know what your favorite parts were and what you’d like to see next year… I’ll try to pass along any suggestions to the powers that be.