Meet Your Maker

Kids, Hackers and Geena Davis All Shared Space at Maker Faire This Weekend

It was an odd mix.
Mousetrap havoc. (Photo: Andrew Kelly for NYSCI.)

Mousetrap havoc. (Photo: Andrew Kelly for NYSCI.)

This weekend, tens of thousands of DIY enthusiasts, families and plain old nerds packed inside the 7 train for the trip to Maker Faire, held as always at the New York Hall of Science. It was a jumbled lot that poured out and onto 111th Street.

There were kids everywhere. On skateboards and razor scooters, in strollers and on their mothers’ hips. They couldn’t get their hands on the exhibits fast enough. They waved to robots and crawled all over the museum’s exhibits and painstakingly assembled their own projects.

Unsurprisingly, then, the dedicated toymakers felt like a louder presence this year. LittleBits held workshops for kids to play with their magnetized electrical bits (which constantly threatened to blow away in the stiff breeze) and the Roominate booth was crowded with pink-clad little girls cobbling together electrified dollhouses.

But that doesn’t mean the under-13 crowd had totally taken over. We spotted “hacker quarterly” 2600 selling back issues out of what appeared to be a converted Ma Bell van, and we spotted many a grown man wearing t-shirts like the one emblazoned with laser cats. Entrants in the Power Racing Series (picture homemade go-karts) included a man in a stormtrooper costume. Just one drone, though.

The high-minded TED-ish talks remain, though the crowd at the Innovation Stage looked thinner than last year.  Wired writer Clive Thompson, for example, delivered a talk about “the new literacies” in media like 3D printing.  A sampling: “The question here is what is the Post-It note phase of any new medium?” he continued. “Can you imagine creating a video game for the purpose, not of showing it anyone else, but merely to think through a problem? Well, that seems nuts, but probably no more nuts than describing a Post-It note to Socrates.”

Randomly, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand stopped by, as did actress Geena Davis, for reasons that remain mysterious. Uber, Purina and Esurance all turned up.

Uh, hi Geena Davis.  (Photo: Andrew Kelly for NYSCI.)

Uh, hi Geena Davis. (Photo: Andrew Kelly for NYSCI.)

Then there’s the business side of the Faire, which has only grown as hobby projects born at previous festivals suddenly become real companies. Bre Pettis took the opportunity to introduce the MakerBot Digitizer Desktop 3D Scanner, while a panel including several folks from Make chewed over new additions to the world of microcontrollers. “Is it necessary to learn the language to do business in China?” we overheard while passing one stage.

The cofounder of OpenROV, which makes underwater robots, gave a talk about going from “Zero to Maker.” The clear implication was that, with a clever idea and a well-timed Kickstarter, you too could be a made guy in the Maker movement.

Then again, there’s likely a lot of overlap between the disparate populations making up the attendees. Standing behind kids three-deep at the Life-Sized Mousetrap, we heard a man (his son sitting on his shoulders) inform his buddy that he’d first seen this particular attraction at Burning Man. “I remember the year this was at Burning Man,” he said. “That’s the first time I saw it.”

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com