Back in 2010, I attended the first Atlanta Mini Maker Faire held on Georgia Tech’s campus. That day, there were less than 50 exhibitors, the September weather was unbelievably hot, and there were no vendors for food and water… the sole provider of anything that day was King of Pops, an Atlanta-based popsicle vendor, that proceeded to sell out in record time. Still, it was a start.
Jump forward to 2014 and the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire got promoted after last year’s successful event and lost the “Mini” part of the name. The event grew in 2011 and 2012, but alas the Georgia Tech campus was no longer the best location. The city of Decatur (a quaint ‘burb of Atlanta) stepped in and offered up a street and a large parking area (along with free parking at the deck across the street) and proceeded to fill up the space with over 200 exhibitors. From less than 50 in 2010 to over 200 just four years later. I met exhibitors from around the country and as far away as Australia. I met local inventors and NY artists. I got to visit with high school robotics clubs and professional prototype engineers for various corporations. For attendees, it ran from babies to retirees, and I’d estimate 30% or more of the exhibitors were extremely attractive to younger makers with plenty of hands-on experiences.
Attending a Maker Faire (large or small) is a bit overwhelming at first. There’s so much to see and you worry you’ll miss something. In previous years, the ATLMF was a one-day event — last year was my 7-year-old’s first time attending, and I showed up for the first three hours for my own enjoyment and to scout out things… then my wife dropped off my son later in the afternoon so I could watch him go crazy. This time around the ATLMF was a two-day event — I attended (with my dad) on Saturday and had plenty of time to visit and see all the things I wanted to see. I took my son on Sunday (again, with my dad) and allowed him to enjoy the full event at his own pace and in the direction his interests took him.
What did we see? Rather than list them all here, I’ll just include this link of all the exhibitors that were able to make the website. I have a feeling a few were added late in the game and didn’t make the listing. I don’t have the space to list all the exhibitors that I visited with and got a demo or enjoyed a good technical conversation. I also don’t have the time to list every booth that my son visited and enjoyed… instead, I’m just going to go through my business cards and flyers and photos and pick out the ones that still stand out the day after… and then I’ll share some of my son’s favorite events.
DuinoKit really grabbed my attention for personal and professional reasons. Growing up, my parents bought me this 300-in-1 electronics kit that I think many geek dads and moms will remember. Well, owner Daniel Alich was setup at the event demonstrating his take on this style of kit but with an Arduino twist. I also teach tech camps during the summer, and I’ve been looking for something like Daniel’s kit that will allow me to keep all the sensors, breadboard, Arduino Nano, and dozens of components all together and protected. You have to see this thing up close to really appreciate it. Daniel designed the board that everything is mounted to and he pulls it together in this little silver carrying case that kids are going to love. Check out his website here if you want more details. FYI — Daniel’s a teacher, and this is his passion… he brought his entire family to the event from North Carolina and his booth was a huge hit. If you’ve got a young engineer wanting to learn electronics and programming and micro controllers, this is definitely the way to do it.
Crankbunny — I got to visit with artist Norma for a bit and was blown away. I have always loved paper craft, especially pop-up books and such. (I proposed to my wife with a homemade pop-up book — on the last two pages of the book, she pulled a little paper lever and two halves of a screen came together with “Will You Marry Me?” — she said yes.) Norma makes lots of paper crafts including pop-up cards and paper dolls, but it’s her tools that wowed me — she uses a laser cutter to cut out her printed artwork and she also uses a 3D printer to create these crazy little frames that hold a battery, LEDs, and copper thread (to close a circuit). Her cards and dolls have little things to pull or push and they cause LEDs to light up and other interesting animations. It’s amazing stuff, and all of her stuff has this Victorian-era look and feel (that appealed to the steampunk fan in me). You can check out her website — I bought one of her How-To books and spent last night digging in… she’s very gifted, and her use of 3DP tech has given me plenty of my own ideas.
The SharkJet was just too cool — an amazingly simple concept of creating your own flight simulator. The crew there had it running the flight simulator from Wii Sports, but I was told it could be configured to run just about any kind of setup you wished. There was a slight hum of a fan that provided air to three small airbags underneath the cockpit that inflated and deflated based on the position of the joystick. They sell a DVD that explains how to build your own, and after my son took a spin I knew that this would be a project we had to add to our weekends. You can find more details on their website. In the photo above, my son has pulled back and is going into a climb — you can see the large screen mounted to the cockpit. The blue bags on the bottom fill and empty to control movement. A huge thanks to Gregg, Master Maker at Creative Fuel Studios for giving my son a ride and for explaining to me in clear detail just how to make this thing… it’s going to be cool.
I had a chance a while back to try out an older version of the Oculus Rift, but the folks at the Atlanta Virtual Reality Meetup had a booth setup and were giving demonstrations of the latest version (I believe it was the Developer Kit version that is supposed to be fairly similar to the retail version expected out next year). This thing really is amazing. I sat down and a virtual desktop appeared in front of me. I didn’t have the glove or controller to manipulate objects, but the cup and pencil and stack of playing cards in front of me had just the right depth and quality that I felt I could reach out and pick them up or knock them over. I didn’t get dizzy and, MOST IMPORTANTLY, I didn’t feel a headache coming on as I do with 3D glasses. If you’re in the Atlanta area and interested in VR, this is the group to reach out to and visit. Here’s a link to their website — scroll down the page to get the details.
The Big Head — well, you just have to see it to understand it completely. It’s an 8′ tall wooden structure with four sides that tell a story. Artist Woody Jones has been building it for some time now (over 2000 hours and counting) and it’s a mix of wooden autonoma and small scenes. Turn a crank here and a group of engineers in the workshop start to bounce and dance. Spin a wheel and another amazing little diorama begins to move. Underneath it all are gears and cams and a mix of interesting methods for creating movement. It also gets its name from a big wooden head on one of the four sides, complete with light up eyes and moving mustache. Woody accepts commissioned work, too… and I got to see some of his special boxes with jumping horses and piano players and more.
I’m big on science kits, especially those you put together yourself. I got to visit with Ben Harris of Reinventing Science and see the company’s STEM science kits that include a Build-It-Yourself Lightbulb kit and Build Your Own Telegraph kit. Interestingly enough, they won an award when they were invited to be one of the limited number of exhibitors at the White House Maker Faire — congrats! Ben and team are also trying to gain support for their own makerspace and Maker Faire in Burlington, NC. If you’re in or around NC, you’ll want to check out the details on their upcoming Mini Maker Faire in April 2015.
Trust me, I saw dozens more and visited with dozens and dozens of inventors and students and professionals. Most of the time I simply forgot to pull out my phone and snap photos — it was just overwhelming!
My son had a great time, too. Special thanks to a good Atlanta friend, Fred, who for the past few years has always had one of the most popular (maybe even THE most popular) event. Kids build their own race car and get to race it down three CNC-cut tracks that really get those cars going. Kids take a base with wheels, add some PVC body parts, a few bolts for weight and then hot glue it all together and customize it with pipe cleaners, stickers, paper, and more. My son really had a great time racing some of his friends who he ran into at the faire.
What else did he do? He got to create his own custom crayon, create a 3D viewer (for use with a mobile phone) that displays a virtual roller coaster, and watch the Power Racers event where adults race souped-up kiddie cars. He got to take the controls of an underwater ROV (drone), watch a glass blower create some beautiful work and a blacksmith create tiny swords. He saw robots galore and saw much bigger 3D printers than the one sitting in his dad’s office. He got to see a really cool RC drone (quite a few, actually) and a 100% plywood bicycle. He got to take a ride in a Steampunk Saucer Car and get some hands-on time with a small Tesla Coil that reacted to keys pressed on a keyboard. And so much more. After about four hours, he was tired… but not ready to go. I think he would have stayed the final hour, but it was time to go. And he’s already excited about next year.
I’m a maker, and I sincerely hope my own children (my other boy, age 4, will probably go with me next year) get bit by the maker bug. Events like this open kids’ eyes and light a fire for them to want to create their own things. I don’t think my son ever stopped smiling the entire time we were there. It’s a big draw for me, personally… but I must admit that I think I get an even bigger kick out of taking my son and watching that little brain start to spin and fire up. And then the questions start. He’s wanting to do some workshop projects now, and I’m just trying to figure out the order to tackle them. Now I get to spend time with my boys learning some new skills, building some strange objects, and ultimately spending time together in the shop. And by the size of the crowd over the two days, I imagine there’s going to be a lot of projects starting up over the following weeks. Mission accomplished, Maker Faire.