Maker Faire NC takes hands-on approach

ndunn@newsobserver.comJune 10, 2014 

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William Wakely, 13, of Bristol, Va., smiles at his father as he works on his robot Saturday at the annual Maker Faire at the Exposition Center on the N.C. State Fairgrounds. The robot is designed to pick up a block or raise a flag, and was built for robotic competitions.

PHOTOS BY ROBERT WILLETT — rwillett@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

Among the mass of lock-pickers, woodcarvers and computer engineers, Victoria Didawick solders a little red robot.

It’s a lapel pin, and she’s attaching a battery pack to power the robot’s LED-lighted eyes. Soon enough, the pin starts blinking.

“I soldered stuff about 20 years ago,” Didawick said. “There are projects I’d like to do around the house, and this is a good refresher course.”

Didawick was one of hundreds of visitors who made their own keepsakes Saturday at the Maker Faire North Carolina exposition at the N.C. State Fairgrounds.

Now in its fifth year, Maker Faire N.C. is one in a network of more than 100 community fairs that celebrate all things made, from sewing electronics and Lego masterpieces to pumpkin-throwing catapults and battle robots. The event, a “mini” version of larger-scale fairs in New York and California, is 70 percent “show and tell” and 30 percent “show and sell,” said executive producer Jon Danforth.

Everything at the fair is hands-on and family-oriented, something Danforth said was always the goal.

“We really want it to be a carnival and a celebration,” Danforth said. “We aren’t a nonprofit, but we want to make sure people aren’t overwhelmed by it being a sales-oriented event.”

Danforth, a Durham resident, helped found the local fair after getting tired of traveling to the larger, metropolitan events. It was a bootstrap effort, which – true to the theme – required a little improvisation. “We just made it up as we went along,” he said.

But like many of the other “mini” Maker Faires, the event became something makers anticipated, as it provided a gathering place for a growing do-it-yourself community. More than 100 exhibitors took part this year.

“A lot of the time people are building these things at home, and it doesn’t see an audience,” Danforth said.

Chris Chappell, a puppet maker from Franklin County, showed off his colorful creations, which he started making for an alternative news channel he hosts on YouTube.

“I couldn’t find anyone to build them for me without them charging an arm and a leg,” Chappell said. So he connected with a puppet maker from Tennessee on Facebook, who showed Chappell the basics.

Holding up a skeleton of a green puppet yet to be designed, Chappell said it takes about a week to finish each project.

“I grew up on Sesame Street and all that good stuff,” he said.

Student focus

A group of North Carolina State University students brought their 3-D photo booth to the fair. Attendees took turns spinning around in the device, while scanners created an image of their appearance.

Recent NCSU graduate William Galliher said the photo booth was part of a senior project he and other computer engineering and industrial design students completed this year. He said the images taken at the fair will be emailed to each attendee.

“Really, they could take the 3-D file across the walkway here and get it printed,” Galliher said, adding that the 3-D booth eventually will be located at the university’s James B. Hunt Jr. Library.

Students made up a large proportion of the makers in attendance on Saturday. A team from Wake Robotics in Cary had exhibits set up for children to learn about basic electronics, 3-D printing and advanced robotics.

“We are starting with little kids, because it doesn’t matter how young you are to learn certain skills,” said Karen Mellendorf, a Wake Robotics board member.

Mellendorf said the club has more than 90 students and 60 adult volunteers.

“It’s about a love of technology, and we also teach leadership skills,” Mellendorf said. “If you give someone the confidence that they understand how this robot works, they can go out and talk to people, and suddenly they are an expert.”

Dunn: 919-553-7234, ext. 104

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