San Diego's Maker Faire Fosters Creativity and Inventiveness

San Diego's Maker Faire Fosters Creativity and Inventiveness

The San Diego Maker Faire offers a unique array of technology, arts, crafts, science and Do-It-Yourself projects, from a 3-D printed prosthetic hand to a miniature city of Tapigami structures.

On October 1-2, 2016, I attended the San Diego Maker Faire at Balboa Park and did booth duty at the San Diego Inventors Forum booth. For those who have not visited San Diego, Balboa is a 1,200-acre urban cultural park on the east side of downtown San Diego. In addition to open space areas and gardens, it is the home to the world-famous San Diego Zoo, 16 museums, and several theaters.

The first Maker Faire San Diego was held Oct. 3-4, 2015, sponsored heavily by Qualcomm's Thinkabit Lab and hosted by 10 museums. The purpose was to celebrate the joys of inventiveness of tech-savvy do-it-yourselfers that has been growing wildly over the past decade. The attendance last year was estimated to be 15,000, and this year's event was expected to exceed that number.

This year's Maker Faire was sponsored by nearly 20 organizations and companies, including SDG&E/Sempra Utilities, The San Diego Foundation, Maker Place, National University, San Deigo9 Makers Guild, City of San Diego, Innovate San Diego, ViaSat, and many others. Maker Faire San Diego is independently organized and operated under license from Maker Media, Inc.

It was touted to be "a hands-on, visual feast of invention, creativity, and a celebration of the Maker Movement," and it lived up to its press. There were about 200 exhibits of technology, arts, crafts, science and Do-It-Yourself projects.

In our building, the two most interesting exhibits were the ham radio operators' booth and the Tapigami booth. Tapigami is a contemporary art form created by Sacramento artist Danny Scheible, who uses masking tape to create sculptures because of its versatile, accessible, and malleable nature. The display had a whole miniature city of Tapigami structures, and children had the opportunity to be shown how to make a few simple forms.

In the Natural History Museum, there were so many fun exhibits that it is hard to remember all of them. I saw a demonstration of how to make a cigar box guitar and watched enough electricity being generated from six lemons to light a Christmas tree light at the Association for Women in Science San Diego booth.

At another booth, I met a father whose 11-year old daughter, Natalie Hampton, had invented an app to help kids find someone to sit with at lunch, called "Sit with us." He said that it had also become popular with adults who work at large institutions like hospitals that have cafeterias.

At another booth in this museum, the Triton 3-D printing club at University of California, San Diego was demonstrating some of their projects such as a 3-D printed prosthetic hand. The international flavor of San Diego was evident at the booth of El Garage Project Hub, which is a Makerspace in Mexicali, Baja, Mexico that offers mentoring and machinery access to help people take product designs from idea to prototype and the marketplace.

At the San Diego City College student booth, you could watch a demonstration on how to build your own custom electric guitar while applying concepts related to science, technology, engineering and math. Custom guitars made by students earlier this year were on display.

At the Plaza de Panama, the 501st Legion Imperial Sands Garrison gave a "lightsaber" combat demonstration. This Legion describes itself as "the premiere 'bad guy' Star Wars costuming group" that creates high quality costumes and props based on the Star Wars universe. At their booth, they displayed their work and demonstrated construction techniques.

Next, I went to the Fleet Science Center, which features so many hands-on science exhibits all of the time that most of the Maker Faire exhibitors were commercial companies displaying new products.

I met Lucy Beard, founder and chief visionary for Feetz, the company that developed new 3-D printing technology and software to make shoes in hours. Their shoe designs are custom fit to your feet, using materials that are good for you and the planet. I watched people getting their feet scanned and a 3-D printer making shoes, but it was not a "while you wait" process to get shoes.

At another booth in the Fleet Science Center, I met the man who invented a simple connector called the PLY90, which is "a patent pending connector that is a faster, better looking alternative to drilling and screwing projects together." The sales advantage is that you can "save time and energy by not having to align every board and precisely drill and screw all the pieces together" rather than using standard wood construction methods. You can easily disassemble creations for storage or moving or recycle old projects into new ones. The company is located in Southern California and opened its doors in 2013.

New Green 365 displayed their decorative tabletop and wall-hanging micro hydroponic indoor/outdoor growing system. If I had the room, I would use it to have an indoor vegetable/herb garden or use it to start plants indoors to move outside later (good for colder climates). It is modular, stackable, and has grow lights with automatic wick watering.

In the Museum of Man, Golden Coast Mead had an exhibit demonstrating their “modern San Diego mead.” You could meet their head brewer and R&D brewer, who spoke about the magic of mead and showed just how easy it is to make mead at home.

While I saw the large metal spider that was first present at last year's Maker Faire, I didn't get to see it in action, and I missed seeing the large robotic giraffe that moved around the Maker Faire. It is impossible to do justice to describing the Maker Faire with just words, so if you want to see photos from the event, check out the event's Facebook page here.

The press release issued after the event stated, in part, “The rich tapestry created by the park's unique cultural organizations blends seamlessly with the many different makers to provide an exceptional example of innovation and creativity in the San Diego region. Whether it is children creating air powered rockets and shooting them from the Festival Stage at the Old Globe, adults learning about beer making at the Museum of Man or finding out what the latest tech startups are developing, there truly was something for everyone at Maker Faire this year.”

My only criticism of the event is that the admission fees were expensive for a family. The onsite admission fee was $28 for adults, and $18 for children ages 3-12. The advance registration on the website was less expensive at $23 and $13 respectively. If one of the Maker Faire's goals is to get children interested in "STEM" careers (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) to foster the growth and longevity of  the "Maker" movement, then I think that children 12 and under should have been free, and ages 13-18 should have been the lesser fee.

Since exhibitors had to pay fees ranging from $150 for non-profit organizations up to $2,500 for large corporations and the Maker Faire San Diego organization also had donations from many sponsors, there was no reason for admission to be so steep. Sponsors of next year's Maker Faire should insist on a lower admission fees for adults and teens, with no fee for children under age 12.

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