Membership Newsletter: Insider Review of Maker Faire Hong Kong

Many of our Make: members attend our two annual flagship Maker Faires in San Mateo and New York, but with over 200 Faires around the world, we thought it would be interesting to show how some of our international events look and feel. This report come from Make: executive editor Mike Senese.

This July I attended Maker Faire Hong Kong, their 3rd time hosting this show. For the 2nd year, it was held at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where the lead producer, professor Clifford Choy, is a faculty member. The event was free, held largely outdoor in atrium areas around campus. Most of the spaces were under awnings, which was good, because periodic summer rain would occur, usually for about 5-10 minutes before returning to sunny weather.

A large portion of the exhibiting makers were young students from school programs. Their projects ranged from marble mazes, to 3D-printed stamps to teach traditional Chinese, to small models that show how water-cooled server systems work. Two of my student favorites were in the VEX booth, using VEX parts to make a calligraphy machine and a coin sorter.

The education focus was deliberate — STEM was the theme not just of the Faire but of the trip in general. Hong Kong seems to be nervous about falling behind the rest of the world in terms of innovation and technology (perhaps because HK borders with Shenzhen and see its rapid growth and incredible support from the Chinese government), and has adopted STEM as its hopeful savior. I saw the anagram everywhere. Yet despite their anxiety, the country still appears to be very forward and organized in its technology focus.

Product-wise, Micro:Bit was very well-represented at the event, more than any other microcontroller. This may have been because the Faire was geared toward a younger, elementary school-aged crowd, but I saw it and heard about it in quite a few locations, and was impressed to see numerous outside companies now selling Micro:Bit kits for their own products. I was also impressed by the desktop metal-plating machine that is just coming to market.

The Faire also had workshops, lots of them. These were paid, and looked successful. They cost about $10 to attend, and each that I peeked into had parents and kids working together on projects. There were about 30 of them, with various sections for each — everything from “building a train-based community” (involving making model trains), to game design, to creating traditional musical instruments out of scrap materials.

The day after the Faire I participated in a discussion group with local educators at the OC STEM Lab, a small makerspace housed inside a shopping mall. The lab has 3D printers, electronics supplies, and a laser cutter, and the mall itself was one of the big sponsors of the Faire. They’re using the STEM Lab as a way to offer community support to the residents of Hong Kong, especially those that live in the towers above the mall. This is how many of the communities there are built, but it’s the first time I’ve seen a makerspace in a mall, and seems like a great place to have them. I wrote a short blog post about this too.

The following day, I toured four different maker spaces around Hong Kong — one, a medium-sized space that was immaculately clean and well-stocked, that has hopes to follow a Techshop model. They’ve been building the space for a couple years and are planning on officially opening in a few months. Another was a nicely outfitted space at a local middle school. The other two were a youth center in a historic former police department building, and a community space in one of the industrial areas slated for total renovation (a regular occurrence in Hong Kong, where space is a premium — renovate, and build up). They were diverse in approach and venue but all organized and inspiring.

And they all seemed to share is a hope that they will create results for the future, but have concerns that larger funding for making will end after a couple years, before enough of a foundation is set to shift the next generation toward the tech innovation they seek. Hopefully, there will be a long enough window to let the young students learning to make now turn into the innovation leaders of the future.

 

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