Ann Arbor Area Business Monthly
Small Business and the Internet

Maker Faire Detroit 1.0

September 2010

By Mike Gould

Mike demonstrating laser lunch boxen at Maker Faire Detroit
Mike demonstrating laser lunch boxen at Maker Faire Detroit 2010
Photo by David Bloom

Boy Howdy, what a great time we all had. "We" being the 18,000 attendees, 330 exhibitors, and 500 staff volunteers who came to the Henry Ford Museum for the last weekend of July 2010 for Michigan's first-ever full-tilt Maker Faire Detroit (MFD). We've had a couple of Mini Maker Faires (MMF) for the Ann Arbor area out at the Ann Arbor - Saline Faire Grounds over the last couple of years, but this is the first time it has been done on such a massive scale in Michigan.

I wrote about our MMF last October ("100,000 Garages"), and the URL for that article is below. This latest event was much the same, only on a much grander scale. The 330 exhibitors mentioned above refers to the number of booths you could visit, and as each booth had a crew of four on average (my guess; exact figures aren't available), upwards of 1,000 makers were there showing off their projects.

Send In the Gigantic DIY Clones
The MFD projects ranged from the monumental (an enormous Rube Goldberg mousetrap that used bowling balls as its motive force) to the merely very large (a carousel that involved bicycles and flame throwers) to the very small (using a macro microscope to examine electronics chips). And we (Laser Lunch Box LLB and Illuminatus 2.1 Lightshow, all seven of us) were there showing off our laser lunch boxen and doing laser and video shows in the beautiful Anderson Theater.

The show took up most of the Henry Ford parking lot, with a scattering of booths inside the Museum proper. Inside was air conditioned and devoted mostly to the display of electronics and such. We ended up inside in the plaza with the big blue airplane in it, along with exhibitors that displayed a spinning LED persistence-of-vision cube, touch-sensitive computer screens, magnetic ferro-fluid, and other weird and wonderful kid-attractors.

Kids Entranced
And, yes, we sure attracted a lot of kids; that was the whole point: let's get kids pried away from their Xboxen and get them interested in building their own cool stuff. And there was a lot of cool stuff there to mess with.

Robots's Wrecklab was a big hit: kids had the opportunity to bust up old radios and computer peripherals with hammers and screwdrivers. As they did this, the people running the booth (Robotics Redefined) pointed out the various parts - speakers, magnets, controls, etc. - and showed how they could be used in other contexts.

Speaking of robots, there was a slew of 'bots that played soccer, shot nerf missiles, talked, sang, and flushed your toilet for you. There are a number of robotics clubs in the area high schools, and they were out in force showing off their projects. This included the University of Michigan Robotics club as well.

Advanced Food Concepts
What's a Faire without food? There were people teaching how to make your own cola (Open Soda), Penguicon's liquid nitrogen ice cream, and exhibits extolling the value of buying locally-grown vegetables and meat. And a race car shaped like a Twinkie and the de rigeur Mentos-Diet Coke exploding fountains phenomenon.

Crafts people were out in force as well; a large tent held many participants in the Handmade Detroit group including knitters, jewelers, and people using various re-cycled materials as media for works of art or clothing.

There were lots of interactive musical exhibits. I have a great photo of kids playing with an optical Theremin, a device that plays music as you wave your hands over its sensors. You could also climb a tower and pedal a bicycle contraption that spun electric guitars past a strumming mechanism. The best music display, in my opinion, was the Sashimi Tabernacle Choir. This was a car covered in singing bass and lobsters that twitched around in time to music, with a headlining school of singerfish on top, all animatronic within an inch of their little robotic souls.

Makin' Dragons
The Ann Arbor District Library had a great attraction in the courtyard just outside the locomotives area of the Museum. They had grey plastic buckets, old CDs, drills and rivet guns. The idea was to make an interlocked Chinese dragon parade float sort of thing. The resultant dragon was later mounted on sticks and paraded around the museum.

They did have a tent where you could learn to solder, making a flashing LED merit badge that you could wear - I saw hundreds of them around the Faire. This was sponsored by Make Magazine and several of the instructors came from our local Maker group, GO-Tech.

The Family That Makes Together are Jake Together
I could go on and on about what an amazing and uplifting event this was. But the point is, it worked. Families came out and packed the place, kids learned a few things, and had their smallish minds melted with the idea that anyone can pick up a soldering iron and make something nifty.

Make no mistake: this is a big deal and will continue to be so as there are more such events in the hopper for the years to come. How seriously local industry takes this can be measured by the sponsors: heavy hitters such as the Ford Motor Company, J.P. Morgan Chase, and the New Economy Initiative for Southeast Michigan were among the underwriters for this. Other sponsors included Subaru, Autodesk, TechShop, ShopBot, and of course, the guys who thought all this up, Make Magazine, especially Publisher Dale Dougherty.

What do the sponsors hope to get out of all this? Well, you may have noticed that Michigan is in a bit of a pickle, industry-wise these days. Anything you can do to inspire a new generation of Henry Fords, Thomas Edisons, or Marie Curies will have a very positive effect on our economic future. The kid learning to solder today may be the next Steve Jobs, so let's get the kids out of their living rooms and into the basement or garage, making something. Or tearing something apart to learn how it works.

This comment sums it up:

"We were thrilled to see the excitement, creativity and innovative ideas swirling at Maker Faire Detroit and throughout the Metro Detroit area," said Patricia Mooradian, president of The Henry Ford. "We're already looking forward to Maker Faire Detroit 2011 to see what new and amazing things Makers from around the country will share."

Photo Gallery here:

100,000 Garages article:

Maker Faire:

Maker Faire Detroit:

The Henry Ford Museum:

Mike Gould, was a mouse wrangler for the U of M, runs the MondoDyne Web Works/Macintosh Training/Digital Photography mega-mall, is a member of the FacTotem constellation, builds lasers into lunchboxen, performs with the Illuminatus Lightshow, and welcomes comments addressed to

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