Power Up Houston at Houston Mini Maker Faire

Maker News
Power Up Houston at Houston Mini Maker Faire

Houston Mini Maker Faire was back at the massive George R. Brown Convention Center for the 2016 event, this time for 2 days (November 12 & 13). The core theme was “Power Up Houston!” as we demonstrated how the Maker Movement with its focus on creativity and innovation is helping the Greater Houston Area build for the future. The event filled an exhibition floor of 120,000 square feet, plus kept a main stage for large audiences and 2 presentation rooms for in-depth topics busy throughout the 2 days. In addition, an information event for local civic, business and education leaders was convened on November 11th to present the scope of the local Maker Movement and describe the emerging business potential. Here are some of our event and exhibitor highlights (and you can go here for even more pics)

What did you do this summer? The first time teen Zale Bush put on a HTC Vive VR (Virtual Reality) headset he caught “VR fever” and just knew he had to create a game for this exciting new environment. So he worked quickly through the basics of the Unity game development platform on his own with a little help from Youtube videos, and then designed and coded the VR game “Dante’s Forest” that’s now available on the STEAM platform. Not bad for someone who had never developed a game before, and a great demonstration of what someone can accomplish with the “Maker mindset”!

Miral Kotb, the founder and creative director of the internationally-acclaimed electronic-dance troupe iLuminate (and also a Houston-area native) visited the event and spoke to an appreciative audience at the main stage. She shared insights into how pursuing her passions led to the wonderful intermingling of tech and performance demonstrated by iLuminate, and how an individual can be creative and pursue excellence in both the innovative moves on the dance floor and the advanced coding and communications protocols in technology development needed to make iLuminate sparkle. On the fun side, we introduced Miral to VR, including her first chance to tour her own career biography on the new Google Expeditions VR for education system in the Techno Chaos booth – for her it was like looking into a new and amazing mirror.

The city of Houston is known for “big” and “can do” – and both are exemplified by the massive industrial-scale 3D printer from Cosine Additive. Based on the core concepts of FDM printing that were popularized by the Maker Movement, in the Cosine Additive machines they’re advanced with huge build volumes, extremely fast speeds and broad materials capabilities. Many engineers, inventors, artists and makers discussed large-build projects with Cosine during the event – we can’t wait to see what emerges from these collaborations!

Innovation in Houston spans well beyond the tech-centric domain. As large parts of Houston’s core are re-inventing themselves, urban farming has sprung up and was represented by the Last Organic Outpost (urban agriculture, efficient food-waste recycling and large-scale aquaponics), Finca Tres Robles (urban agriculture) and Ian Bird with his simple yet effective Backyard Aquaponics examples (which he practices in a suburban HOA-controlled setting!). The Houston Tiny House Enthusiasts and Anderson Construction showed a portable tiny house that was one of the most-popular exhibits in the event as 100s of attendees got to see it inside and out.

Local Maker Anjan Contractor from BeeHex appeared fresh out of the pages of Make: magazine with their pizza-making 3D printer. He provided intriguing insights into how their development efforts combined both tech and artistry as they strove to make a pizza that was both innovative in construction and tastes great! In one of the more memorable lines from the event, he declared “it was a nightmare to teach a robot [3D printer] to make a pizza that tastes good” – but they succeeded and continue to up their game as they complete plans for their next-generation food printer.

The Immersive Technology area showcased VR (Virtual Reality) and was the most popular exhibit at Houston Mini Maker Faire! With 6 different demonstrations of VR, ranging from gaming to 3D graphics design to classroom-ready education, attendees got to experience VR firsthand for a thrilling engaging experience. This exhibit was a collaboration with the Houston VR Meetup Group and the inaugural Immersive Technology Conference. We look forward to further exciting developments as Makers become active developers and inventors in the VR domain.

Another highly-popular area was the Drone Zone put on by Drone Parks Worldwide. In this area attendees learned about drone technology and examples, watched drone racers fly their specialized contraptions through obstacle and race courses, and got to fly drones themselves for a completely amazing experience! And we were proud to feature the largest array of crafters and artisans ever at a Houston Mini Maker Faire, with exhibitors showing crafts such as quilting, knitting, weaving and clock-making, and selling beautiful handmade gift items and keepsakes.

The Houston-area Maker Movement actively delivers a wide range of beneficial community impacts. We invited several different community-service organizations to exhibit at Houston Mini Maker Faire, to better connect and engage with attendees and fellow makers. The Neighborhood Centers, one of Houston’s largest charities, demonstrated their vision of using makerspace education for economic development and job skills. Creativity Shell, a new makerspace dedicated to the textile arts, provides outreach programs to teach valuable job skills to youth rescued from homelessness and human trafficking. Jose Gomez-Marquez, who leads MIT’s Little Devices Lab and MakerNurse (an international “community of inventive nurses who are creating solutions to improve patient care every day”), shared how Maker technology is being used to bring important medical solutions cost-effectively to communities around the world, including advanced diagnostic testing capabilities. Andrew Maxwell-Parish showed examples of how the first makerspace in a hospital in the US, the MakerNurse branch at UTMB Galveston, is used to improve hospital care, services and staff learning. The Houston chapter of Engineers Without Borders shared how they use applied engineering to create innovative low-cost solutions to address critical community needs around the world. The eNABLE Chapter at the University of Houston demonstrated many of the steps involved in the charitable work they do to build 3D-printed prosthetic hands for people in need. And Living Water International and Water Relief Networks, two large Houston-based globally-active water ministries, vividly demonstrated what it’s like to live without the abundance and convenience we take for granted in the US — and collaborated with us to design the Hackathon challenges to show how Maker ingenuity can improve the quality of health and life in “Third World” countries (more about this, below).

The organizers of Houston Mini Maker Faire added innovative new exhibits to progress the “Power Up Houston!” event theme, including: the IDEAS Pitch Competition; a Hackathon for high-school students that focused on real-world challenges; and a showcase to help inventors and manufacturers learn about each other and connect. The IDEAS Pitch Competition was a collaboration with Houston Community College that encouraged teams from local high schools and colleges to present and demo proposals for startup businesses with the opportunity to gain funding, mentorship and business support. More than 30 viable proposals were received through a series of 3 ramp-up events that helped teams prepare and introduced them and the community to the innovation potential of the Maker Movement. The winning teams proposed: a hydrophobic coating to help solar panels stay clean and efficient; an inviting environment and system to help young students learn core computational thinking concepts; and a plan to make home lighting automation simpler and cheaper to improve energy efficiency.

The “Power Up Houston Hackathon” challenged conventional thinking by mixing water and electronics to develop innovative solutions to pressing problems in “Third World” countries. Water is life, and electronics and computing offer some of the best innovation potential in the Maker’s toolkit. So, in a collaboration with Houston-based water-relief ministries Living Water International and Water Relief Networks, 3 significant water-related challenges were posed to the Hackathon teams and basic equipment was provided (e.g., water containers, Arduino boards, 12 volt water pumps, relays, batteries, connectors, etc.) to enable these high-school students to innovate for real-world benefit. Over the 2 days of the event the teams worked vigorously on the challenges of cost-effective water pump control, water metering and management, and effective uses of surplus solar electricity – and all came forward with interesting and useful proposals! Most teams were able to demonstrate at least a basic form of their solution. Work continues to make some of these proposals robust enough for use by Water Relief Networks for actual deployment to West Africa, but the immediate benefit was the knowledge and experience gained by the student participants (and mentors) in this deep-dive into the Maker mindset!

We love the investigation, exploration and tinkering that are part of making, but one of the biggest challenges Makers face is when they try to turn a great idea into a product, service or business. Making one of something can be a beautiful thing, but making 1,000,000 of them is a huge endeavor! We developed the “Power Up Houston! Pavilion” to help bridge the gap between Makers, inventors and artisans and all the resources available in the Houston metro area, so more ideas can grow to help more people and perhaps become fruitful business realities. Many of the leading exhibitors, such as MacroFab, Northworks Automation and Cosine Additive, were part of this showcase, and exhibitors such as Arovia, NeoSensory, Drone Parks Worldwide, PicoWear, Bunibox, Bright Water Bottle, OcuRhythm, Grind Basketball, Haptigo and others demonstrated various stages of the idea-to-market transition. We saw many discussions in this area throughout our Maker Faire and event feedback shows it was quite productive and beneficial, so we plan to develop the Pavilion further in future events.

We thank everyone who came out to support and attend this 4th annual Houston Mini Maker Faire. But most of all we appreciate everything the Makers, makerspaces and other exhibitors did to show and share their creations and inventions with the community – it’s their creative spirit that fuels the Maker Movement in Houston and inspires us!

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Mike Hinkle

Mike is a STEAM educator and life-long Maker residing in Sugar Land, Texas. His Making focuses on robotics, 3D design and printing, microcontrollers and IoT development. When he's not Making he's... sleeping.

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