MakerFaire Bay Area 2012 Recap

MakerFaire Bay Area is always a scene of beautiful and overwhelming madness, and this year was, if possible, even more intense than the other three years I have been. It gets bigger and bigger every year. 

This is the first year we've had a booth at MakerFaire Bay Area, but not my first year as a exhibitor. My first Maker Faire, 2009, I went to help show off the Hackerbot Labs quarter shrinker. It's a little more intense when it's your own booth and in the Expo Hall. The Expo Hall crowd was shoulder to shoulder from about half an hour after opening until half an hour before closing both days. 

Me in our booth, Saturday edition. Photo credit: Terence Tam

Luckily, I was able to share the booth hosting duties with Terence Tam of OpenBeam, Imran Peerbhai of Peerbhai Robotics, and our friends Ben and Holly. There was enough of us I was still able to see the fair and there were always enough of us available that there was no problem getting out to eat and take care of other necessities.

My weekend started off nicely when Avis decided to replace the econobox I'd paid for with a bright red Mustang. This was nice in every way... except that it meant I was not able to fetch the six foot pole I needed to hang up the Logos Electromechanical banner.  Terence was a champ and fetched a big gardening stake with his SUV. It was flexible enough for us to weave into the chain link at the back of our booth. Terence also brought his very nice camera gear, and took all of the pictures in this post. 

Naturally, both of the Logos product demos we brought (the light displays and the balance bot) needed some work when we arrived, and fixing them required a soldering iron. Luckily, our neighbors from Bare Conductive were kind enough to loan us a soldering iron. That got the light displays up and running, but the balance bot was still not working correctly. Its behavior makes me think that there's some sort of intermittent failure, but I have not had the time to go back and fix it. I'm hoping to have it up and running for Seattle Mini Maker Faire next week.

Our booth location was really ideal. We were next to Chipkit, across from Modern Device, two booths down from both Arduino and Atmel, kitty-corner from Macetech's awesome chillout booth, and one row over from Dangerous Prototypes and Sparkfun. About the only improvement would have been one of the expensive end booths, like our fellow Seattlites, MicroRAX.

Photo Credit: Terence Tam

One thing you can see in this picture is evidence of what, to me, is a disheartening change. Sparkfun, instead of their usual giant pavilion, had only a standard 10x10 booth, the same size as ours. This seems to be a result of the fact that MakerFaire has attracted some large corporate sponsors, including Oracle, Radio Shack, and others. As a result, the price for Sparkfun's usual educational pavilion was prohibitive for them. I hope that they are able to find a compromise next year that preserves the presence of maker-focused small businesses (like Sparkfun) over the corporate behemoths.

Due to Terence & Ben's travel arrangements, most of the time I had to wander around the fair was on Saturday. I realized, once again, that no matter how much of the fair I spend wandering, there's still an enormous number of things I missed. Even when I don't have a booth to run, there's still plenty of things I miss, so I suppose I will just have to accept that. 

The thing that blew my mind the most was the sheer number of 3D printers on display. Five years ago, 3D printing of any variety was high wizardry (and correspondingly expensive). Now there's so many of them on offer that it's very easy to become blase. Last year, there was a 3D printer row in the Expo Hall. Now there are too many to fit in such a confined space. 

This explosion in 3D printers has driven a steep decrease in the price of the motion control systems required to drive them. This is producing a lot of very interesting home-brew CNC machines, such as this wooden pick and place that appears to be assembled from parts cut on a CNC router.

Photo Credit: Terence TamThese machines allow you to rapidly and accurately assemble PCBs. They're crucial to the low cost and high reliability of modern electronics. Even the lowest end ones that are usable for production cost $30K or more; this one appears to be much less expensive. The same folks are also working on a low-cost laser cutter based on similar technology. 

One of the things that I love about MakerFaire is that it combines both a lot of the technology used and created by Makers with many of the applications, both practical and fanciful. Many of those projects are outside, such as the BrollyFlock!, a huge collection of renegade umbrellas. Some are on fire, some light up, and the lowest ones spray cooling mist, all in response to the ambient soundscape. 

Photo Credit: Terence TamGerard's Paella always manages to have the longest and the fastest line of any of the many food booths on the MakerFaire midway. They've been doing it for years and they are very efficient and turning out titanic amounts of very good food. They provided dinner for the assembled makers on Friday night.

Photo Credit: Terence Tam

What MakerFaire would be really complete without a giant fire-breathing dragon?

Photo Credit: Terence TamThere were several cars converted to electric power with various levels of professionalism. The best were the bright orange BMW conversions from eMotorWerks. They'll convert your BMW to LiFePo battery power for about as much as the car cost new. It's a very nice conversion package, and their cars look very nice. 

The strangest vehicle I saw was this combination motorcycle/gyrocopter. The outrigger wheels and the rotor fold up for road travel. What is perhaps not clear from this picture is that the entire structure passes through the hub of the mid-mounted propeller. I have doubts about the durability and practicality of this arrangement, but it looks very cool.

Photo Credit: Terence Tam

This was not, however, the most unusual wheeled thing I saw at the fair. That honor goes to Kyle Doerksen's OneWheel self-balancing skateboard. It uses a single go-kart tire and is controlled by operator lean.

Photo Credit: Terence Tam

I am a total sucker for math made metal.

Photo Credit: Terence Tam

This is a tiny selection of the huge number of different projects and products I saw at MakerFaire. I know, looking through other people's pictures, that I missed a huge number of cool things. Some things aren't here because I don't have any good pictures of them and some just because there's only so much space. 

This was the first outing for us as exhibitors, and I think we learned a number of valuable lessons. The first one, we implemented for Sunday. The original booth layout was as an L, but we changed that to a U in order to draw people into the booth and to make it easier for Terence and Imran to talk about their project as separate entities with attendees. 

Photo Credit: Terence TamThe blinky lights were a huge hit with, well, everyone. At least a third of the people I talked to asked me where they could buy some. We took the hint and ordered a pile for Mini Maker Faire Seattle. The I2C PWM Drivers that I was using as row drivers sold out, so we ordered some more.

The pricing for our products on the tent cards was unnecessarily confusing and did not make it clear everything was on sale. I've fixed that for the ones we will be using at the Seattle fair next weekend.

Having the balance bot available for static display only was sad. I'm trying to bring it back to life for Seattle so we have more visual interest for our booth. 

MakerFaire was, as always, a great place to connect with many old friends and colleagues. I hope I fostered some new relationships. We already have one consulting project from a contact made at MakerFaire and the possibility for many more. I think we were able to use the opportunity for face to face contact to move some possible deals forward. 

Watch this space.