On the outskirts of the Maker Faire

By Richard Nieva , written on May 20, 2013

From The News Desk

Over the weekend, I spent some time at the Maker Faire in San Mateo, CA. The annual festival, hosted by Maker Media, which publishes Make Magazine, brings thousands of people to the Bay Area peninsula to indulge in robotics, crafts, software, and DIY culture.

The festival had some marquee exhibitors and speakers, like 3DRobotics CEO and former Wired editor Chris Anderson. Organizations like the X-Prize and startups like Sifteo and Helios had booths in the main concourse.

And there were 3D printers. Lots of 3D printers.

3d printer 2

So many 3D printers.

3d printer 4

3d printer 3

3d printer 5

But as a first-time Maker Faire attendee – and I’ll admit I'm a newbie, since the festival has been around since 2006 – I was surprised to see just how much of a family affair it was. The startups and high-powered speakers are standard fare for your typical tech gathering. But the charm of the festival was everything else, on the outskirts of the main concourse.

There were organizations like the Oakland, CA-based Hacker Scouts. The idea is for young people ages 4 to 17 to earn badges for learning specific technical or programming skills – like a soldering badge, or an Android badge, or a sensors badge. Samantha Cook and Garratt Gallagher, a former Boy Scout himself, cofounded the organization. “These are things completely essential for the next generation,” says Cook.

This is Lee Rodgers, who tells me he is 10 and a half, with an enclosed circuit board he built.

hacker scouts

Then there was this Human Body Recharge Station that was decidedly low-tech. (They didn’t have a website, but a nifty flyer.)

recharge 2

The idea is to hold a copper rod filled with carbon in your right hand, and a zinc rod filled with magnets in your left hand, and to place them on tense parts of your body. The combined effect is supposed to create an electric charge in your body to boost energy. I tried it, and didn’t feel much, though I didn’t give it the suggested five to 15 minutes. But, “the charge is working, even if it is not felt,” the flyer assures me. The idea isn’t all granola. At least one startup is banking on it, too. At HAXLR8R’s demo day last week, Focus, a company from London, debuted a headset that sends a jolt to users’ brains that is supposed to boost cognitive abilities, like alertness, in gamers.


Last, there was the “peddle-powered stage,” apparently a familiar staple of the Maker Faire, presented by the Berkeley-based sustainability organization Rock the Bike. A jazz band played on stage while close to a dozen bicyclists generated electricity to power the sound system.

maker faire bikes

These are the kinds of quirks that make up a family event like the Maker Faire. Demonstrations like this might seem kitschy to high-minded technologists, but it’s not kitschy to anyone who sees the 100-watt smiles on kids’ faces. 

BONUS: Here is a fleet of R2D2s built by various robotics groups.