Hall of Science hosts do-it-yourself World Maker Faire
By Julian Dunn

Science fair meets county fair.

That’s how organizers described the World Maker Faire, a celebration of do-it-yourself science and engineering held at the New York Hall of Science this past weekend. The event featured more than 500 “Makers,” with exhibits ranging from homemade robots to a 70-foot-long, fire-breathing dragon made from reclaimed steel and rubber.

Maker Faire, organized by California-based technology book publisher O’Reilly Media, drew 35,000 people, said event representative Sherry Huss. The two-year-old fair, a companion to O’Reilly’s six-year-old Make Magazine, attracts an unusual mix of hackers, inventors, engineering students and families.

Many were awed by the creations emerging from various basement and garage workshops.

“I have a certain kind of admiration for the people who can do some of these things,” said Art Steinmetz, 52, of Morristown, N.J., who came to the fair with his wife and three school-age children.

The fair combines projects small and big, from the tiniest booth showcasing kit-built robots to a large-scale demonstration of music from artificial lightning machines known as Tesla coils.

A group called ArcAttack! custom built the 500,000-volt coils, which played the theme song from “Dr. Who,” against the backdrop of the Great Hall, the luminous blue interior space originally intended to showcase rockets at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair.

Some projects were more art than science. “Sashimi Tabernacle Choir” is an “art car” created by Richard Carter, 53, a retired mathematics teacher from Houston, Texas. He covered a small Volvo with hundreds of animatronic Big Mouth Billy Bass talking fish, lobsters and sharks, all wired into a dashboard-mounted laptop.

The robot seafood choir can “sing” anything from classic rock to opera, but the car itself can’t go far.

“Ironically, the fish aren’t waterproof, but we’ll drive it around the block,” Carter said.

Other inventions were more practical. Michael Martinez-Campos, 37, of Gowanus, Brooklyn, rewired a Microsoft Kinect game system to improve rehabilitation programs for stroke patients. As part of his graduate work at the Tisch School of the Arts’ Interactive Telecommunications Program, Martinez-Campos developed a swimming simulator.

The device asks patients to move their arms through the air as though they were swimming and mimics their motion with an on-screen avatar.

“Many of the existing exercises are very monotonous, like asking you to move a card up and down against a wall until you’re told to stop,” he said.

Inventors who missed this year’s World Maker Faire can look forward to one of many regional, independently organized Mini Maker Faires licensed by O’Reilly. So far, 36 cities have hosted Mini Maker Faires across the United States and Canada, and efforts are under way to bring Maker Faire to Africa.

NYCity News Service

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