Mini Maker Faire: Valley of the Uncanny

OC's first such event featured everything from singing robots to fighting robots—and more!

Orange County saw its first mini-Maker Faire on July 14, as hundreds of people crowded the outdoor plazas and pathways of UC Irvine's Claire Trevor School of the Arts for an offshoot of "the greatest show-and-tell on Earth." Inspired by the Maker Faire—a legendary free-for-all exhibition that's half fourth-grade Mission diorama contest, half Rube Goldberg wet dream, and all about cool nerds—Bequi and James Howarth of Huntington Beach were the couple that brought it here, through the support of MAKE magazine and the Beall Center for Art + Technology and funded partially through contributors via the website Kickstarter.

The independently produced faire celebrates arts, crafts, technology and the DIY mentality, attracting "makers" of all types, from engineers to artists, many of whom displayed their creations. In addition to the exhibitions were tutorials on different subjects, ranging from the basic (make your own ice cream!) to the esoteric (cigar-box guitars!).

Greeting most guests on one side of the Maker Faire entrance was Thomas Messerschmidt's singing robot, Betty9, which was inspired by Japanese robots and took more than $3,200 and 2,500 hours to build; she was just a stone's throw from the uncanny valley (the concept in robotics that posits that when robots look and act almost—but not quite—like actual humans, we freak out at their likeness to us). But Betty9 wasn't the only robot in attendance, as the Robotics Society of Southern California showcased Nerf-gun-toting, red-shirt-tracking battle robot TrackRoamer; simple firefighting robots; glove-controlled mechanical arms; among others.

Mingling with attendees were several mobile projects, including a seesaw named Cecil; a solar-powered bike; oversized, moving cupcakes; unicorns resembling those in the viral video "Charlie the Unicorn" (YouTube it!); and a functioning R2-D2 unit. Also present were multiple 3D-printing groups, which can create small objects from readily available blue prints, affordable materials and machines that can be built at home.

Not everything centered on the "show" part, however. The stage area hosted several workshops, including a coffee-roasting demo from Sweet Maria's, a concert with Betty9, a question-and-answer session with Melvis the talking robot (thankfully, nowhere close to the uncanny valley), and a sumo robot competition. The most popular project was the "shake-your-own-ice-cream" booth, which taught families how to make the cold treat using ice, salt, plastic bags and repetitive arm motion—though the booth ran out of materials early.

The UCI Design, Art, & Technology Hackerspace club, led by Vahan Hartooni and Nicholas Lajeunesse and aided by multiple volunteers, hosted a soldering workshop, teaching attendees, who purchased a soldering kit along with their ticket, how to work with heating irons, solder and electrical components. Participants walked away with a DIY MAKE magazine pin with light-up eyes.

There were also demonstrations on tie-dying shirts, wiring computers, making ham radios, and creating cigar-box guitars and foam swords. An impromptu battle broke out, as kids dueled with foam weapons next to a fountain.

People inside the Beall Center were surrounded by more robotics. Just inside the entrance was an exhibit on mechanical special effects, including animatronic busts, flickering candles and grasping hands. Deeper in the building, Mathobotix—a science, technology, engineering and math organization that provides educational programs—helped kids assemble and battle robots using Legos and simple computer programing.

Those in the University Art Gallery were treated to the craftier side of the Maker Faire. Demonstrations were led every half-hour, ranging from the basics of crocheting and knitting to clothing recycling and simple T-shirt based projects. There was also a "write with light" computer-controlled demo and a Facebook-integrated photo-frame project.

Plans for a 2013 Mini Maker Faire are currently being developed. For more information, visit www.ocminimakerfaire.com.

In the spirit of our coming robot overlords, we "end communication."

 

This article appeared in print as "Valley of the Uncanny: OC's first Maker Faire featured everything from singing robots to fighting robots—and more!"

 
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