Prof. Disbrow expounds on the fun awaiting at the Mini Maker Faire this Saturday
Some of the stuff I write about here in “Just a Theory” is a bit beyond the experience of the everyday person. Visiting dwarf planets, cooling liquids to almost absolute zero, discovering a new elementary particle...very few of us are ever going to actually do those things.
But the people that do do those things are just that: People. People just like you and me. So where did those people get their start? What set them on the road to the heart of the atom or the furthest reaches of Spacetime?
Well, they probably got their start by making stuff. Kids do this all the time. They pull one thing apart and put it together in some new and interesting way. Or, they take existing things and jam them together with other things to create something unique and new. As the kid gets older, the things they make get more and more complicated.
For a lot of kids, this natural tendency to create can get lost in the shuffle of growing up. It can even be stamped out by family and friends that just don’t understand it. But, occasionally, the desire to understand things and create new things becomes a passion that can’t be extinguished. Those kids grow up to be artists, writers, engineers and scientists. Today, we collectively call them “Makers,” because, they make stuff.
Of course, not every Maker ends up leading the team that builds a space probe, or running the experiment that confirms the existence of the Higgs Boson. Most of them remain “just folks,” albeit with a passion for making things.
What kind of things? Well, robots are popular things to make. Some build robots from scratch, using things like Arduino controllers and scrap metal. Others take commercial “toy” robots apart and turn them into something completely different. (Repurposing “Furby” toys is a popular pastime among one segment of the Maker community.)
Robots are really just the tip of the iceberg. Makers make all kinds of stuff. They make their own clothes, cosmetics, food, software—and even vehicles. Sometimes, they even take the things they make and turn them into successful businesses.
Take for example, Dean Kamen. As a young man, he loved to tinker and invent things. He dropped out of college to finish his first invention, the AutoSyringe drug infusion pump. The success of that allowed him to continue making new things, like the Segway scooter. He also created the FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) program to inspire students to become more involved with science and technology. (FIRST also sponsors the “Jr. FIRST Lego League” robotics competitions that lots of area schools participate in.)
The recent proliferation of 3D printers has had a profound impact on the Maker community as well. Need a case for that new thingamajig you just invented? Design and print your own.
Heck, you yourself might even be a “Maker” and not know it. Tinker with your car’s engine? Slapped together a tool to get that toy down from the roof without breaking your neck? Built the dog a doghouse? (To paraphrase a certain comedian...you might be a Maker.)
If any part of this intrigues you, or you suspect that you might secretly be a Maker, you’ll be happy to know that on Saturday, Sept. 19, the annual Chattanooga Mini Maker Faire will be taking place in the First Tennessee Pavilion! It starts at 10 a.m. and goes until 6 p.m., and, best of all, it’s completely free!
There will be lots of neat things to do and see at the faire, including:
Mocs Arcade: A custom arcade cabinet full of games created by UTC students.
Zolidify: 3D printed figurines. (Get one made that looks like you!)
Electron Soda: A Van de Graff generator made of PVC pipes and aluminum cans.
The Cardboard Challenge: Kids build stuff out of cardboard and other recycled materials.
Destination Imagination: An international competition where kids form teams to solve problems in creative ways.
R2 Builders: Makers that specialize in creating Star Wars replicas.
Chattanooga Robotics: Promoting STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) education via hands on robotics programs.
And, of course...
Robot Battles! Come and watch robots try to bash each other into submission, in one of the oldest robotics competitions in the world. (It starts at 11 a.m., so don’t be late!)
If you want more info, just visit makerfairechattanooga.com
See you at the Faire!
Steven Disbrow is a computer programmer who specializes in e-commerce and mobile systems development. He’s also an entrepreneur, comic-book nerd, writer, improviser, actor, sometime television personality and parent of two human children.