Maker Faire 2015

This weekend the 10th Annual Maker Faire Bay Area took place in my backyard and rather than fighting traffic for 2 days with the +130,000 attendees I decided, as I have for the last 9 years, to join them.

Unlike last year, Oracle had no presence at the Maker Faire itself, so I had plenty of time to walk around the grounds and attend sessions.  This post is an overview of what I saw and experienced in the 2 day madness that is called the Maker Faire.

For those of you who have never been to the Maker Faire, the easiest way to describe it is as a mix of Burning Man and a completely out of control hobbyist’s garage, where the hobbyist’s hobbies include, but are not limited to: everything tech related, everything food related, everything engineering related and everything art related, all wrapped up in a family friendly atmosphere, my kids love the Maker Faire.

You can find the tech giants of the world next to the one person startup, beer brewers next to crazy knitting contraptions, bus sized, fire breathing rhino’s next to giant cardboard robots etc.  And nobody takes themselves too seriously, e.g. Google was handing out Google Glasses to everybody … Google Safety Glasses that is 🙂

Google Safety Goggles

My new Google Glasses 🙂

The first thing I noticed was that the Faire expanded . . . again.  A huge tent was erected on what was a parking lot last year that was housing the Make:Labs, I didn’t actually get to spend any time in there but it contained an exploratorium, startup stuff and a section for Young Makers.

Which brings me to the first trend I observed, makers are getting younger and younger and the faire is doubling down on these young folk.

Don’t get me wrong, the faire has always attracted young kids, and some of them were making stuff, but there seem to be more and more of them, the projects they bring are getting more and more impressive and the faire’s expansions all seem to be to cater to these younger makers.

One of the sessions I attended was called “Meet Some Amazing Young Makers” where a 14 year old girl showed of a semi-autonomous robot that could map the inside of caves.  She was showing us the second iteration, she build the first version . . . when she was 8!  Another young man, 13, build a contraption that solved a Rubik’s cube in under 90 seconds.  It wasn’t just that they build these things, they gave solid presentations to a majority adult audience talking about their builds and future plans.

Another trend that was hard to ignore is that the Internet of Things (IoT) is getting huge and it’s definitely here to stay.  There weren’t just many, many vendors promoting their brand of IoT hardware, but a whole ecosystem is developing around them.

From tools that let you visualize all the data collected by your “things” to remote configuration and customization.  This trend will not just Cross the Chasm, it’s going to rocket right passed it.

I attended a panel discussion with Dominic Pajak (Director IoT Segments, ARM), Paul Rothman (Director of R&D at littleBits Electronics), Andrew Witte (CTO, Pebble), Alasdair Allan (scientist, tinkerer) and Pierre Roux (Atmel) about the current state of IoT and the challenges that lay ahead.

One of the interesting points raised during the discussions is that there currently is no such thing as the Internet of Things!  All these “things” have to be tethered to a phone or other internet capable device (typically using BLE), they cannot connect to the internet directly.

Furthermore, they cannot communicate with each other directly.  So it’s not really an IoT rather the regular “human internet” with regular computers/phones connecting to it, which in turn happen to have have some sensors attached to them that use the internet as a communication vehicle, but that doesn’t really roll of the tongue that well.

There is no interoperability standard at the moment so you can’t really have one device talk to a random other device.  This is one of the challenges the panel felt has to be solved in the sort term.  This could happen with the adoption of IP in BLE or some other mechanism like Fog Computing.

Another challenge brought up was securing IoT devices, especially given that some of the devices could be broadcasting extremely personal information.  This will have to be solved at the manufacturing level as well as at the application level.

Finally, they also mentioned that lowering power consumption needs to be a top priority for these devices.  Even though they have already come a long way, there still is a lot of work to be done.  The ultimate goal would be self sufficient devices that need no external power at all but can harvest the energy they need from their environment.

One such example mentioned is a button/switch that when pressed, uses the energy you put in to press it to generate enough power to send a on/off signal to another device.

Massimo Banzi, co-founder of the Arduino Project, also gave a talk (as he does every year) about the State of Arduino.  It seems that a lot of that state is in legal limbo at the moment as there are now seemingly 2 arduino companies (arduino.cc and arduino.org) with different views of the future of the project.

As part of his vision, Massimo introduced a partnership with Adafruit to let them produce arduino’s in the USA.  Also as a result of the legal issues with the Arduino brand name, he introduced a new “sister” brand called Genuino (Get it? Genuine Arduino) which will allow them to keep producing at least in the US.

Other announcements included the release of the Arduino Gemma, the smallest Arduino ever, the Modulino, a arduino like product designed and produced in their Bangalore, India, office and a focus on online tools to manage and program arduino’s.

I also attended a few sessions that talked about the BeagleBone board.  I am interested in this board because it bridges that gap between the Raspberry Pi and the Arduino, on the one hand it has a Linux OS, but on the other hand it also has Real Time GPIO pins making it interesting for IoT projects that require this.

It also can be easily programmed using JavaScript (it comes with a node server build in) which is something I am currently working with, I’ll probably write up another blog post about my findings with that board when I get some time to play with it (yes, I got one at the Maker Faire :-).

And finally, some other things you can find at the Maker Faire:

Game of Drones:

Fire and Art:

IMG_5591

Robots that solve Rubik’s cubes:

Cheers,

Mark.

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