Maker Faires

I recently came across the phenomenon of “Maker Faires”. They aren’t big (yet) in my country but they seem to be spreading around the world. Have you been to one? Born in America, the movement simply encourages individuals to make things and to share the joy of making.

What happens at these events? “Maker Faire is a hard-to-describe event—there is so much to see and learn” says the Vancouver Maker Foundation[i] “There are hobbyists, individual crafters, small businesses, independent artisans and established organizations, as well as workshops and a speaker series. Makers range from tech enthusiasts to crafters to homesteaders to scientists to garage tinkerers: they are of all ages and backgrounds.” Certainly members of the British Columbia Meccano Club were seen at the Vancouver show on June 8th 2014, putting on a great display. “Stevemopolis” posted a video[ii] to YouTube of his walking Meccano robot with gripper driven by Vex motors and a Vex remote controller that he showed there

In some ways it sounds like an “Arts and Crafts” movement for the 21st Century. A group in Brighton, England[iii] says “(Maker Faires are) about exciting people in making, re-awakening that enjoyment we felt when we made our first Airfix model, Lego structure, Meccano car or knitted pom-pom hat. Over the last decade, the Maker movement has become a global cultural force, and the subject of interest from business leaders and policy makers looking to harness the next wave of innovation.”

On the other side of the Atlantic the enthusiasts of San Mateo, California, say, “If an inventor died and went to heaven, it would likely look a lot like the Maker Faire, billed as the “Greatest Show-and-Tell on Earth.” Art made of recycled garbage cans, robotic warship fights with lookalike WWII-era ships, a giant mousetrap show and a talking electric giraffe are just some of the highlights of this do-it-yourself bonanza, which plays into the “Maker movement” sweeping from Silicon Valley to Europe and beyond.”[iv] If you had been there way back in 2006 you could even have seen Tim Robinson demonstrating his Meccano Difference Engine, an early mechanical computer.

Doesn’t a Maker Faire sound like a great place for Meccano enthusiasts to go? All credit to Spinmaster (Meccano’s new owners) then for joining in with enthusiasm. They advised in advance of the World Maker Faire New York 2014 that “We will be performing seminars, teaching how to build a Meccano models and the customer can take it home to continue the fun. We will also have tables with free play where people can came and spend time using the parts and build whatever they want. Kids and Family will all enjoy the Meccano zone.” And they did. In May Meccano headed to San Francisco for their Maker Faire, another experience recorded on YouTube. The commentator says on the clip, “What will kids be able to make with nuts, bolts and spare parts? What happened next was truly extraordinary. Kids are innovative, creative and smart. Build the future shape the world.” [v] Clearly the children had a great time!

Sydney (Australia) held its first Mini Maker Faire in 2013 and included a Meccano spirograph, Groningen holds an annual one-day Maker Faire for inventors, buildings, hackers, nerds and tinkerers to show the world what they think of, create and develop. And yes, they had Meccano there too this year. There was another in Stockholm from 17-18 May in 2014.

Maker Faires can be found in the UK – Geek Mummy[vi] reported on a visit she and her daughter made to the Manchester Mini Maker Faire which was held at the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), in August 2014 which as she says has “a very family-friendly venue which includes a nice restaurant and plenty of attractions of its own to look at if the kids get bored with the Faire.”

She said, “I’m glad we went. We had a great time. (It) proved to be a great family day out, with opportunities all over the place for the kids to get their hands on stuff that had been made. From amazing Meccano constructions to 3D printers to a whole town made out of paper to having a go at soldering to simple colouring and cutting. We arrived at about 10.30 in the morning and found there was plenty to do to occupy us for the entire day.”

Browsing reports of this global movement, what struck me was the way that children were getting turned on to science and engineering by their encounter with Meccano at these Faires. Isn’t that what Frank Hornby wanted? So much modern technology is about us as users rather than developers, but it does seem to me that here is a chance for the next generation to be inspired to creativity as we were once ourselves. Are you looking for someone to partner with for your next show? Well, perhaps this is your opportunity.

[i] http://www.vancouvermakerfoundation.org

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zp6nzHYVQCc

[iii] http://www.makerfairebrighton.com

[iv] http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Inventors-Heaven-9th-Annual-Maker-Faire-Hits-San-Mateo–259537421.htm

[v] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LDnZ3VCOaqw

[vi] http://www.geekmummy.com/2014/08/manchester-mini-maker-faire-2014/

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About Philip Webb

Chairman of the International Society of Meccanomen
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