If you’re Ahmed Mohamed, how do you pass the time between your recent visit to Sergey Brin and your upcoming visit to the White House? Evidently you head to Corona, Queens, where this past weekend the 6th Annual World Maker Faire swept the grassy grounds of the New York Hall of Science.
The Maker Faire, first realized in 2006 by the DIY technology magazine Make Zine, has a motto: “Greatest Show and Tell on Earth.” Last year, 80,000 people showed up at the New York event. At 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, half an hour after opening, the tents were already jammed. Engineers, craftspeople, entrepreneurs, showmen, and corporate sponsors all did their best to grab attention (and, sometimes, dollars) from the all-ages crowd.
Mohamed, fresh off his visit to Google, zoomed through the Robot Resurrection area on a hands-free scooter, trailed by Maker Faire staff. He graciously posed for photos with other young makers—and for the most part, the under-15 contingent dominated the fair, in spirit and in ubiquity. Kids talked to robots at the wildly popular Meccano booth (“When you build a Meccanoid G15TM Personal Robot, you’re building a friend”), kids obsessed over the cardboard PinBox 3000 pinball machines, kids wound the motors at the Moat Boat Paddle Battle, kids learned to unicycle at Cirque Amongus.
And some kids had their own displays: Talia and Alex Arovas, ages 7 and 11, ran a booth called “Two Woodworking Sisters,” whose pièce de résistance was Alex’s “Arduino-controlled model of the Times Square Ball with a glass ball that goes up and down, a countdown from 60 to 0 synced with the ball, and plays Old Lang Syne,” according to the explanatory poster.
In the giant Young Makers tent, Daniel Anand, age 14, showed his creation, a “Gamified Incentive Spirometer fired Nerf Gun for Pediatric patients.” The modified Nerf gun makes it more fun for young patients with respiratory conditions to check on their lungs.
In the Startup Zone, Dogstar’s intriguing promotional materials promised that its product, TailTalk, “helps you understand the complex tail language. Your dog is speaking, WE HELP YOU HEAR IT.” Mike Karp demonstrated on a plush beagle how the FitBit-like band cinches on a dog’s tail, registering direction and velocity of wagging. “We’re doing clinical trials with the Cornell Vet School,” he said.
In a large screened area, children and adults raced their drones through the air. In the NASA tent, visitors took turns snapping selfies on a space toilet. In the oneTesla booth, a shining coil shot lightning and used its precisely-timed sparking to create an eery melody.
A shady area along United Nations Ave was dedicated to sustainability. Joe Blevis at the Earth Living Skills booth presided over an array of hand-carved bowls, animal pelts, and flint arrowheads. He talked about hide tanning techniques with a curious visitor.
“A lot of people, when they see brains, it turns them off,” he said. “So I usually use eggs.” Nearby, Melissa Jacobsen at Ecovative demonstrated a sustainable replacement for plastic foam—a lightweight material made out of ground-up cornhusks and fungal mycelium.
Some of the best exhibits were inside the Hall of Science proper. In the darkened Viscusi Gallery, makers showcased light projects that were equal parts aesthetically pleasing and impractical.
Jared and Joey Ficklin showed a crowd-pleasing array of 2500 LEDs, whose colors could be changed by electronic paintbrushes.
Columbia’s Optical Society set up an Ocean’s-Twelve-style laser field, and children (and some adults) limbo-ed their way through it. “It doesn’t hurt, it just makes a sound go off,” an attendant reassured a young girl.
In the Great Hall’s permanent “Connected Worlds” exhibit, excited participants rushed to interact with virtual reality ecosystems. A desert, a lake, a rainforest, and a savannah were projected onto the walls, and gentle electronica floated in on unseen speakers. Participants channeled the virtual water to the virtual seeds that they’d sewed—every movement caught by sensors.
The Atmel PancakeBot booth showcased elaborate pancakes extruded by a 3D-printer-like machine. Children eagerly poured syrup on the delicately filigreed forms, and devoured them.
Jingwen Zhu, a graduate student at NYU, showed her “Dressing Everything” dress, a gauzy white sheath with programmable LEDs. “When I’m close to ice cream, it turns pink,” she said. She tapped the “Weather” button on her phone, and pale blue light cascaded down the dress. “There,” she said. “It’s raining in Tokyo right now.”
Molly Dektar is originally from North Carolina and keeps a photo blog here.