Tiny Humans, Tiny Tech, and the Close-up Magic of Maker Faire

Maker News
Tiny Humans, Tiny Tech, and the Close-up Magic of Maker Faire

I love so many facets of Maker Faire, but one of my favorite activities is seeking out the small and the often overlooked — the shy, lone presenter, the single card table with little more than a scatter of tools, a (sometimes not even working) prototype, and a maker with a big idea and an even bigger smile — who’s thinking about maybe doing a Kickstarter. I also get a huge kick, as I walk around, having people who know that I work for Make: coming up and pitching me on the fly about their project, often producing microcontrollers, PCB prototypes, and tiny robots from their various pockets like a close-up magician setting up a slight-of-hand trick.

Going through my photos and videos, post-Faire, here is a random sampling of some of the more modest things that caught my eye.

2016-10-01-16-06-44One of the more interesting controller boards I saw was Ray Kholodovsky’s Cohesion3D board. The stats on it look pretty impressive:

A 32-bit board that can drive 6 stepper drivers for handling triple extruders for multi-color printing. It includes 6 MOSFETs for heaters, fans, and other peripherals, including one 20 amp channel for powering a large heated bed or a CNC Spindle. A smaller mini board version offers 4 stepper drivers and can act as a drop-in upgrade for the K40 Laser Cutter or can drive a 3D Printer or CNC. Ray is big on the idea of buying really cheap laser, CNC, and 3DPs from China and then swapping out the crappy controllers with more powerful, feature-rich boards like his.

2016-10-01-15-20-27One of my favorite modest exhibits was Kimio and Mariko Kosaka’s bottled circuits which I wrote about on the Live Blog Feed. Kimio also likes to create Arduinos where all of the electronics fit on top of the AVR chip. Here are three of his designs.

Sometimes, the tech is so small, you almost step on it. Such was the case when I nearly ended the short life and career of this critter spokesbot for Kamigami robots. Unfortunately, the video I took on my phone of this over-caffeinated fella got corrupted so you don’t get to hear the giggles and squeals of children as he scuttles under foot (or my salty language when I nearly crush him).

diyiotI’m not so sure about the name (dyslexia does funny things with these letters), but I definitely appreciated Chuck Fletcher’s DIYIOT project. And his enthusiasm. In classic maker style, he had just gotten his no-nonsense boards etched and assembled before the event. His goal is to create a series of open source internet of things sensor boards that can easily and cheaply be made so that you can add sensors and actuators to wifi networks as inexpensively as possible. He says that most of the boards can be built for less than $7. The boards are designed to work with Microsoft’s Node-Red on Raspberry Pi 3. Chuck has no set plans to turn this system into a product, yet, but all of the source files are available on Github.

zeppelinI backed Tiny Humans as my first Kickstarter project years ago (to get my feet wet in crowdfunding). The Tiny Human is a two-inch tall laser-cut skeleton model under glass. I loved it! So, I was thrilled to see artist and Tiny Human-maker, Herb Hoover at the Faire with a bunch of mutant variations on the original. He also now has two sizes of retro rocket ships and zeppelin models that I was itching to buy. The packaging on the rocket and airship models is really lovely, too.

2016-10-02-17-54-13On my way out of the fairgrounds on Sunday, by the closing gates, I ran into the Carrier Pigeon booth. A table filled with beautifully-produced zines and small press always has my attention. This thick and sumptuous art zine is amazing-looking, with different cover treatments on each issue, changing art and design styles, and what looked like great content inside as I rifled through while the fairgrounds quickly emptied. Discovering this booth on my way out gave me special pause as zine publishing is how I ended up on the road that led me to writing about DIY media and technology. Roots. Full circle.

I enjoyed thumbing through Carrier Pigeon so much, they were the first site I visited when I got home and sat down with my annual pile of Faire-collected business cards, tiny PCB kits, and the usual collection of cool bookmarks, laptop stickers, badges, buttons, and laser-cut chotskies. Because sometimes, oftentimes, it’s the little things that really count.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at garstipsandtools.com.

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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