I’d heard of Maker Faires—that cooler sibling of Renaissance Faires—but, aside from the odd article about them taking place in Africa, I’d assumed that they were a Stateside-only affair. So when I found out that not only was there a Maker Faire UK, but that it was being held here in Newcastle, I had to cough up the £5 entry fee and take a look.
The first thing I found out was that these are Maker Faires as in Make Magazine. I probably should have known that. Other big-wigs around O’Reilly (I restrained myself from spending lots of money on Arduino and Processing books), the Beeb (who did catch my eye with an ad for a UXer in their R&D North studio!) and “engineering social-network” (in the words of the people behind the table) Element14.
First thing: there were robots. Lots of them, ranging from Arduino (as you might expect, the favoured coding platform there, with booths also selling kits and add-ons) to good ol’ Lego Mindstorms.
Even rubbish-bin ones outside, that followed people around and squirted water at them. (I’m not sure whether they were remote-controlled, but if they were, the person was well hidden somewhere).
And a Dalek. (Yep, we’re in England).
On the maker front, there were a few crafty things—knitting, pies, jewellery and the like–but I was happy to see some Steampunk people on the scene.
I overheard someone say “there are 3D printers everywhere”. She was right. In the back room there were three on the same row, and about the same number in the big room. The most interesting thing about them is their size—or lack of. All of them were the size of a sewing machine (or a child’s stool).
Sadly, there wasn’t too much Twitter enabled stuff around (to be honest, there isn’t that much Twitter activity in Newcastle!), though I did see two: The Bubblino—which blew bubbles when tweeted at, and a hacked receipt printer by Ian Ozvald that printer fair-related tweets.
I also have to mention another beautiful concept by Ozsvald—a machine that smiles when it detects a face in its field of vision (otherwise it frowns). Apparently the face recognition code is freely available, but it is truly magic.
There were also some great installations—Cuture Lab had a Hiroto Ishii-like interactive ping-pong table as well as a Wacom-input music making device, BBC had interesting tangible music devices, and there was also a heartbeat tree piece made me think of Natalie Jermenjenko’s Dangling Wire.
So, was it worth it? What I realised when I went through was that the event was carefully managed to aim at both kids and adults—the former were given a treat with the front room of the Centre for Life and the Discovery Museum (big robot demos), while the more hard-core got their fix with the more industry focused rooms at the back of the Centre for Life. So, while I initially wondered if I was a bit old for the Faire, by the end I came out happy.
(For more of a feel for what went on, check out the Fickr pool for the event).
3D printer images CC by Nottinghack. (All others mine).