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Our Trip to Maker Faire 2011 NYC

Pete Brown - 19 September 2011

This past weekend, I made a trip to NYC with my son, primarily to attend Maker Faire 2011 NYC. This was my first time at a real maker faire, and my first time at the Hall of Science in New York City. The Maker Faire is a family-friendly event. IMHO, that means school-age, as the under 5 set will get bored and tired fairly quickly.



The Maker Faire covered the gamut of things that people can make. You had giant metal sculptures, a human-sized game of Mouse Trap, soldering stations where you could build your own circuit, a solar powered carousel, crafts and weaving, robots galore, a giant swing with a waterfall timed to never hit the riders, alternative transportation, 3d printers and much much more.

Fire-breathing metal stegasaurus. You know you want one

Yeah. A giant fire-breathing stegosaurus. You had to go sign all your parental rights away for a special armband (appropriately colored red) to let your kids climb on stuff like that. Of course we did without hesitation :)


Once at the top, you could control the tail from one end, and the head from the other. No safety equipment here; that's all hard steel with squared off corners. Maybe that's why I noticed more dads than moms here ;)

Microsoft @ the Maker Faire

Most people don't associate Microsoft with "maker" type stuff. However, we have a lot of things going on there both in R&D and in the CLR (where Micro Framework resides). I'm a huge fan of our efforts here, as I just love robotics and gadgets. At the Maker Faire, Microsoft was represented by folks from Microsoft Research, showing off cool things with the .NET Micro Framework, Robotics Studio, Kinect and more. On the Micro Framework side, the FEZ Spider, an implementation of the .NET Gadgeteer, was the star of the show.

Microsoft Research

Microsoft had an entire tent, with a large Microsoft Research Connections sign facing the concourse. The sign promoted the .NET Gadgeteer, Kinect for Windows SDK, and Robotics Developer Studio 4 Beta.

Inside, one of the first things you saw was the .NET Gadgeteer table. There were a number of neat things on that table from a touch-screen camera app (clear plexi) for creating stop-motion video/flipbooks, a video game console, proximity sensor and more. My son liked how they were easy to plug together, a real bonus when compared to the arduino form factor devices I usually use.

.NET Gadgeteer

.NET Gadgeteer Flipbook Creator

Opposite the Micro Framework table was the kinect robot area. Yes. Kinect Robot.

Here, my son (with fresh mohawk) is controlling a robot using the Kinect. The robots are on the other side of the fence and have on-board Kinects for vision.The robots were a version of the Parallax Eddie with Lenovo brains on-board using Robotics Developer Studio 4 Beta which supports the Kinect out of the box.

Ben about to do a crane kick, or maybe controlling a robot with KinectRadar love

Errrrreeeow...budda budda buddaHello. I am your local homeland security robot. Please look directly at the camera.

Another.NET-powered robot roams around taking photographs of the people sitting opposite the robot area. I hear it was terrorizing little children, chasing them around and snapping their photos ;)

Oh, and freebies, of course. Here's Ben sporting a mohawk and cool Robotics Developer Studio 4 shades.


3d Printing

What can I say? I love home manufacturing technologies like CNC, photo-etching, 3d printing and more. I have a small CNC setup at home. I haven't build a 3d printer yet, but you bet I will. The resolution is starting to get pretty decent on those. The machines varied from plexiglass to ones built RepRap-style with simple rod and nut assembly, to large ones with milled aluminum, linear slides, and 8020 extrusions. Some were even themselves made of parts that were made by other 3d printers.

Here are a few of the more interesting home made and kit-built 3d printers in the "3d printer village" at the Maker Faire. Maybe I'll wire up something cool with .NET and show it off at a future show.

A very sturdy aluminum 3d printerA RepRap-style machineBen wants oneMakerbot

And here is a selection of parts made on the 3d printer at one particular table. I picked a few up; they're sturdy and usable right off the machine.

sudo make me a rocket

On day 1 (Saturday) we spent the entire day at the maker faire (11:00 on, as we stopped at Fao Schwartz after arriving at 9am on the train). It was exhausting, but enjoyable.

New York City in General

The hotel we stayed at was not in the greatest area in Queens, but it was an official Maker Faire hotel. We walked from the Faire to the Hotel before supper on Day 1. Ben got to see his first rat that day. I wanted to make sure he had a better view of NYC than that, so we did a ton of stuff the afternoon of day 2.

Having purchased end-of-day tickets for the Statue of Liberty a few weeks before, I knew that they wouldn't allow anything larger than a small backpack. That meant that Ben and I had to travel light, with everything for the weekend (including purchases) for both of us stuffed in my work bag. My shoulder is still sore ;)

In the second half of day 2, Ben and I took a look around Manhattan. He had been dying to see the Statue of Liberty in person, so that was our main goal. Being Sunday and September, we were also able to get up to the top of the Empire State Building with almost no wait. The wait is typically a few hours as I understand it. (Ben was disappointed that the mooring mast was not actually a giant laser, as he thought when he heard the name "Empire".)  Seeing New York through the eyes of a 5 year old is a new experience. Having a child with you seems to unlock your own ability to rediscover and enjoy what you see. I had a great time at both spots.

In our short time in the city, we caught:

  • A parade of revolutionary war drum and fife playing the Star Wars theme song
  • A full-blown parade with floats for a Mexican celebration
  • The view from the top of the Empire State Building
  • FAO Schwartz (you can't bring a 5yo to NYC and not stop there). I did draw the line on getting the 2' long lollipop, though.
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • The new One World Trade Center under construction, up close
  • A protest in the park near 1WTC, complete with hipster standing on top of a box, shouting
  • A 2 hour 45 minute train ride between Baltimore and NYC.
  • Many city taxi drivers :)
  • Oooh oooh that smell

Just holding things up around here

posted by Pete Brown on Monday, September 19, 2011
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