- Grace Huseth For the AJC
Picture a science fair, arts festival and county fair wrapped into one, and you’ll start to get an idea of what’s in store at this weekend’s Maker Faire Atlanta. On Sunday, the best inventions in Atlanta, such as hoverboards, Rube Goldberg-like contraptions, DIY furniture and robots, will be on display at the free annual event.
Most of the making takes place behind the scenes in garages and basements and on dining room tables, but Maker Faire Atlanta finally puts these inventive ideas and projects in the spotlight. Whether it’s reviving a lost art like paper making or giving a glimpse into the future, Maker Faire is all about exploring new skills and experimentation in technology, engineering, art and craft.
Maker Faires are part of a larger movement of “Makers” organized through Maker Media, publisher of the popular Make: magazine. Maker Faire Atlanta appeals to everyone from ambitious entrepreneurs to young inventors.
Madison Kenney, 14, will exhibit a shell of the robot she is currently working on with her group RoboChicks. The team is sponsored by the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta to build and present robots in competitions statewide and nationwide. Her young mind spins like a gyroscope at Maker Faire Atlanta.
“There is a lot of variety in what you can make. It just depends on if you are creating for fun or to solve a problem,” said Madison. “There’s just so much to take in, and then you have all these ideas constantly popping into your head.”
This year, the RoboChicks will host a craft station so parents and their children can make mini LED lightsabers together. Using cookie money, they have purchased over 500 LED lights in preparation for Maker Faire Atlanta. “We realize that watching a robot and then actually putting your hands on something and doing it has a greater impact,” said Madison’s mother, Bisa Kenney. “It’s a great place to highlight STEM and the ability of making your own stuff.”
Since 2006, major cities such as San Francisco and New York have hosted “Makers” for geniuses and gizmos while other cities have started hosting their own family-friendly Faires. Atlanta’s first Maker event was a Mini-Maker Faire on the campus of Georgia Tech in 2011. It grew to be renamed Maker Faire Atlanta and moved to downtown Decatur. This year, the event has a new platform at the Georgia Freight Depot.
“Though Decatur was absolutely fantastic to work with, we feel that the Faire can continue to grow and diversify our audience by returning to the city. We are very excited about this move and look forward to introducing even more people to the Maker Faire experience at our new location,” said Maker Faire Atlanta producer Tanya Hyman.
Hyman is producing and organizing Maker Faire Atlanta for the second year. She first became a Maker when Make: magazine inspired her to designate a creative “Makerspace” corner in the classroom where she taught seventh-grade math. She later helped other schools start and run Makerspaces, organized the first MakEdu Educator Conference and now produces the entire event through the support of her nonprofit organization Southeast Makers Alliance.
Leaving the familiar streets of Decatur will allow Maker Faire Atlanta to truly reach an Atlanta audience. By simply registering for a free ticket, 10,000 curious individuals can see educational exhibits, hear surprising speakers, participate in workshops and watch demonstrations from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
There’s something for everyone at Maker Faire Atlanta. Young Makers can explore making at EdObstacle Course and Innovator’s Playground. Entrepreneurial Makers with vision will contend for cash and prizes as they present startup ideas to Makers, investors and economic developers at the Southeast Maker Innovation Showcase, sponsored by the Georgia Department of Economic Development — Innovation and Manufacturing.
Irm Diorio, associate director of Decatur Makers, said Maker Faire Atlanta is the Decatur organization’s most popular event of the year. Decatur Makers will show creations made from recycled materials, like the member who built a car from repurposed parts, and the Maker who has made animatronic puppets from found materials. Other Decatur Makers will entertain with a light box outfitted with LEDs that dance to the beat of whatever music is playing. 3-D printing is still hot off the press — don’t be surprised if you fall into step with a walking machine built entirely out of 3-D printed acrylic parts.
Decatur Makers offer games like Giant Jenga and hands-on activities each year so kids, as well as adults, can experience making. In the past, the Decatur Makers has hosted button-making and soldering Blinky-Bots stations. This year, about 15 people in the community built a super-sized Space Force game, also known as Shoot the Moon, to explain the power of momentum. The team re-created the classic wooden game while magnifying it, replacing the large marble that rolls up the metal rails with a bowling ball.
“The idea of all these people with all different backgrounds and passions coming together and celebrating making as a community is just inspiring,” Diorio said. “It’s like the Olympics of making and all these people come together to celebrate all the different ways of getting hands-on.”