Billing itself as "the greatest show (and tell) on Earth," the annual Bay Area Maker Faire, held in May in San Mateo, California, showcased giant cupcake tricycles, pancakes created by a 3D printer, and a 12-year-old whiz kid who built a robot capable of solving a Rubik's Cube.
Maker Faire—and the larger "maker" movement of which it is a part—pulls together new developments in technology, arts, and crafts along with a cast of mad visionaries who are pushing the boundaries of DIY (do-it-yourself) culture. Over 120,000 attendees shared their latest inventions, toys, games, and much more. Other "faires" are held in New York and cities around the country.
This year's gathering highlighted how Arduino (an incredibly user-friendly microcontroller) is making it easier than every to assemble, program, and create interesting stuff. At the same time, continuining breakthroughs in the quality and costs of 3D printing are making it easier than ever to bring new things to market.
"Projects like Kickstarter have enabled a lot of makers to become manufacturers," says Robert Wessels of Energia, a prototyping platform that helps implement Arduino. In the near past, explains Wessels, "it wasn't really possible to go from [being] a maker to a manufacturer" because it was hard to make more than a single prototype. "It was very hard to actually get a product made."
Wessels says that as Arduino, 3D printing, and other technologies improve, customization and appeal will expand exponentially. So will the sorts of goods and products being made.
"Traditionally the maker movement started as non-electronics, but more and more people are getting involved using electronics to make art, to make products that can eventually be launched," says Wessels.
James Durand, a Disney Imagineer, spent three years building his injection-molding machine that he brought to the Faire. The machine mainly produces plastic trinkets such as little Maker Faire mascots. But he says his machine, and the maker movement, isn't just about making products with widespread appeal. It's enabling hobbyists to express their individualism.
"It was really exciting to see this thing that started out as an idea in my head, went to design…, and then came out as a real thing. It's sort of a sense of accomplishment, being able to say that you did something 100 percent yourself," says Durand. "There are so many projects, from fabric electronics to smaller robotics, that no matter what your skill level is, there is something that you can do."
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Produced by Tracy Oppenheimer. Camera by Oppenheimer and Alexis Garcia.