Recipe For A Perfect Day At The Maker Faire: Part II
Editor's Note: I'd hoped to get to this second half of tales from the Maker Faire much sooner that a month after the first installment appeared, but the challenges of attending several conferences, our newly-expanded web site, and the normal demands of our weekly publishing schedule just kept getting in the way. Hopefully, it was worth the wait to find out how I narrowly escaped death at the hands of a flame-spewing jet-powered combat hovercraft...
Attending Maker Faire in San Mateo was a great antidote for the pre-packaged corporate-designed activities that usually pass for fun these days. The can-do, do-it-yourself, spirit of the Faire was extremely evident in the huge assortment of home-made and radically-modified commercial vehicles that dotted the fairgrounds -- including a DieMoto, a biodiesel-burning motorcycle which its creators hope to pilot to a world land speed record some time this year. Built by The Crucible, a Bay Area non-profit educational collaboration of arts, industry and community, it marries a BMW motorcycle shaft drive rear end and a high performance BMW automotive diesel (imported form Europe) within a hand-crafted fame and hand-formed aluminum ¾ streamliner fairing. Technical details and the latest news and videos documenting their land speed quest are available on The Crucible web site.
The fairgrounds swarmed with other less-speedy, but oh-so-green, forms of homemade and commercial transport, ranging from streamlined 30-mph recumbent bicycles to long-range electric touring bicycles. Lying somewhere between the electric bikes and the heavier eco-mobiles was the Meyers NmG, an adorable three-wheeler which is a beefed-up, better-performing version of the venerable Corbin Sparrow. While not the prettiest thing in the world, it's comfortable, holds its own in urban traffic, and can get up to 150 miles on a charge.
And then there was the Tango, a carbon-fiber and aluminum tandem-seat electric rocket that's just entering limited production. What this homely streamlined cereal-box-on wheels (sort of the love child of the Honda Element and a telephone booth) lacks in appearance, it made up for in raw performance. It's capable of 0 - 60 mph in four seconds, a 150 mph top speed, and has the handling characteristics of a Porsche. None of my photos came out worth a damn so check out the Commuter Cars Corporation web site.
Another good chunk of the Faire's activities was designed to help infect kids and teens with its DIY spirit. Nearly every exhibit hall I visited had at least a couple of areas where non-adults could exercise their creative muscles along with the big kids. Besides the usual craft tables, it was not uncommon to see children using hand and power tools to turn their ideas into reality. To my amazement, there were at least two places which were teaching kids as young as six years old how to solder electronic components. One table I spotted looked much like many of the other crafts projects areas around the hall, except that instead of the usual construction paper, beads, scissors and glue, the table was strewn with soldering irons and electronic parts. Once they'd gotten the hang of sticking components onto a circuit board without frying them, the kids got to assemble and program a little pendant with LEDs and a small speaker that would emit the owner's custom series of blinks, whistles and beeps.
Just past the kiddy-hackers, I ran into a whole area devoted to remote-controlled vehicles. Besides the dozens of dangerous-looking battle-bots that competed in the nearby arena, there was an entire menagerie of wheeled, tracked, and legged creatures that had been radically modified from their original commercial form or lovingly cobbled up from scratch. The coolest (maybe an inappropriate choice of adjectives) bunch of these wireless wonders was a series of steam-powered vehicles that sported their own Lilliputian boilers and expansion engines. Some even substituted the normal piston set-up for a tiny turbine. Small only in stature, the engines packed quite a bit of torque, more than enough to tow their full-sized creators around on a skateboard.
It was getting late and I'd seen less than half of the wonders that the Faire had to offer. I'd only had a moment to check out the section devoted to high-tech Halloween decorations, and completely missed the power tool drag races, so I made sure I caught the exhibition of full-scale combat robots being staged by Survival Research Labs, the granddaddy of mechanical mayhem.
The Labs' evil-looking multi-ton vehicles emitted a menacing aura that commanded one's attention, even amid the general surreal atmosphere of the Faire. I watched as Nomex-clad technicians fussed with last minute adjustments to the bizarrely-modified Air Force bomb loader and the propane pulsejet-powered hovercraft that hunched on the asphalt combat zone. Several large flammable targets (including a six-foot paper maché globe) were rolled onto the arena for an added dramatic effect.
Finally, the vehicles were unleashed and careened across the parking lot spitting jets of fire. While not as deadly as Mr. Satan, the hovercraft was the star of the show, at least in my opinion. Its pair of swiveling ramjets sent it careening about the area with a throaty roar as its operator tried to home in on a target to ignite. After some pyrotechnic waltzing and assorted collisions, and the assistance of the bomb-loader, the paper globe and the other objects were burning brightly. I guess somebody forgot to tell the San Mateo Fire Department about the planned activities, because several fire engines made a noisy entrance to the fair grounds and headed for the parking lot where the conflagration was still in progress. I took that as my cue to leave.
If this sounds like your idea of fun, you don't have to wait until next May to catch up on the action. There will be another Maker Faire October 20 - 21, 2007, in Austin, TX. Check out the details on Make Magazine.
Comments? Questions? DIY technology you'd like to share with me and your fellow readers? Write me at lhg at en-genius.net.