Experimentation, Shop Talk, and the 501st Legion at the First Virtual Maker Faire Miami

Maker News
Experimentation, Shop Talk, and the 501st Legion at the First Virtual Maker Faire Miami

2020 has been a difficult year. As folks are struggling to survive through the challenges wrought by a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and social unrest, we asked ourselves if an event would even be appropriate right now. After postponing the event twice, we had numerous meetings about the role of Maker Faire Miami in the community and its responsibility to adapt and continue to fulfill its mission. It was clear that the pandemic was not a temporary disruption, and that it required us to work on re-imagining the experiences at Maker Faire Miami to be virtual. So, we reached out to the community to hear what they needed from the event and got a resounding “YES, PLEASE!”

It was incredibly important to us that we have a chance to celebrate, connect, and inspire our community, especially in a time where social interaction and idea sharing are limited. So in addition to making it completely virtual, we also decided to make it completely free, so that anyone and everyone could join us this year. This resulted in makers joining in from across the country and across the world for the very first time! We were extremely excited to welcome a broader audience and with it new ideas and new perspectives to our local community. And, although many people echoed the sentiments that a virtual event would never live up to the experience of doing things live and hands-on, we set out on a mission to get it as close as we could to the level of interactivity everyone knows and loves from our coveted Maker Faire events. And it worked!

Building on the lessons and successes of Virtually Maker Faire and NOMCON, we were on the hunt with a very long list of app features and capabilities needed to handle the various activities at the event. After careful consideration, we decided to transfer our entire platform to the Whova event app. The format of their online platform closely resembled the in-person structure in a few ways.

  • Exhibitors were able to post their information on a profile page, announce exclusive offers and deals to attendees, have a recorded promo video on their page, and host livestream sessions to do demonstrations.
  • The Speakers and Workshop instructors also had their own pages where they could upload pre-recorded content that attendees could watch before the event. Attendees could submit their questions on a Q&A window where upvoted questions would get asked by a moderator during the scheduled livestream interviews.
  • Attendees and speakers also started logging into the app before the event started and created discussion pages, uploaded articles, submitted project photos, created virtual meetups, and more! This allowed for many opportunities to connect, discuss, and share much like would be done in an in-person Maker Faire.
  • Looking beyond the event, we were able to record all of the live Zoom webinars and make all 20+ hours of content available on the Maker Faire Miami YouTube Channel for the folks who were not able to attend at the scheduled times. We received many messages from makers with limited access to the internet thanking us for making this available for on-demand viewing, as it was the only way they’d be able to see the talks.

It was not only the format that was completely redesigned to be virtual experiences. We were blown away by the local Power Racing Series organizers led by Andrew Rudolph as they created a Miami-themed track in a video game engine and re-created their custom carts to race in the game. Attendees were able to log in and watch a Twitch stream of the races and even vote for their favorite teams using a virtual “Moxy Board”. Seven teams competed: 4 from Florida, 2 from Michigan, and 1 from California. What an amazing reimagining of the Power Racing experience!

There was a completely virtual weekend long Make-A-Thon to kick off year two of the Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Moonlighter FabLab. Over 120 participants joined in over the 9 scheduled sessions including a Botany Q&A with Dr.Gioia Massa, Project Scientist at NASA, and a collaborative whiteboard session using Miro to share ideas, resources, and links to components for the project. At the end, five teams presented prototypes, yielding three winners. One of the winning teams was RCS, a group of remote college students from different schools (Georgia Tech, University of Maryland, Illinois Institute of Technology, and Merrimack College) that met virtually and decided to collaborate on the project. It was a great example of how challenges are overcome when groups of people think creatively and adapt to spawn new forms of collaboration!

We were thankful to feature some great speakers from across the country at the event. Aside from being incredibly talented makers, each and every one of them was kind and flexible during the whole process of converting their presentations into this new format: Sophy Wong, Jen Schachter, John Park, Allie Weber, Elijah Horland, Jenny Lorenzo, Liz Clark, and Andrea Gellatly educated and inspired the community with their panel discussions, project showcases, and Q&A sessions. 

Sophy Wong wowed us all with her 3D printed fashion, Flappy Bird controller-hoodie, and cosplay designs.

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Jen Schacter led us through the experiences of her large collaborative build projects including Project Egress for the Smithsonian with Adam Savage.

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John Park walked us through the process, equipment, techniques, and controlled chaos of producing his weekly live shows. If you’ve ever wanted to see the deep dark secrets of his shop, from which he broadcasts his weekly livestream John Park’s Workshop for Adafruit, this is your chance!

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Allie Weber debuted her latest project, the Rubik’s Arcade Bot, that allows you to manipulate (and attempt to solve) a Rubik’s cube using only 3 buttons.

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Elijah Horland led a workshop on how to make a Birchbox Game Controller using mostly recycled materials, and spoke about his experiences on MythBusters Jr.

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Jenny Lorenzo hosted an AMA about the world of Content Creation and social media video production.

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Liz Clark showed us how she built her incredible robot xylophone powered by CircuitPython and the BLE MIDI library.

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Eric Elg appeared with members of the 501st Legion and spoke about what it takes to join the 501st.

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Andrea Gellatly was gracious enough to host a number of BattleBots Panels with the help of Luke Stangel from Behind The Bots. Together they welcomed many of the amazing team leaders over five scheduled Bot Builder Sessions, including Bite Force captain Paul Ventimiglia, Tombstone captain Ray Billings, DeathRoll captain Steven Martin, Nelly the Ellybot captain Sarah Malyan, HiJinx captain Jen Herchenroeder, Ferocity captain Julia Chernushevich, Sporkinok captain Lilith Specht, and of course, Andrea Gellatly herself, from Team Witch Doctor. Although it was sad to postpone Witch Doctor’s original plan for a Robot Riot event that already had 46 robots registered to compete, it was a fun weekend full of lots of Bot Talk — and even ending our Friday sessions with a bedtime reading of B is for BattleBots!

It was a weekend full of all of our favorite things — creative people, interesting projects, and an invigorated community. It all wrapped up with a short video by Dale Dougherty, Founder of Make: Community discussing how Makers play a huge civic role in our society. We may celebrate with wacky games, crazy designs, and experimental concepts — but collectively we have the power to make real changes in our world, as made apparent by the distributed Open Source Medical Supplies efforts creating PPE for front line medical workers during this pandemic. It’s a great call to action to use our talents to build the world we want to see! We hope that the situations improve and we can once again resume safe in-person events. But until then, we’re happy we’ve found a solution to connect virtually. We call on all of you to keep on making, keep on learning, and keep on sharing! Thank you for being a part of Maker Faire Miami 2020 and making it a meaningful and memorable experience.

Thank you to all of the folks who helped offer their time and talents to help make this all happen! And special thanks to our sponsors: The Knight Foundation | Make: Community | The Miami Foundation | Microsoft | Watsco Ventures | Addigy | Particle | Zeisler | VDT

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