Maker Faire 2009 Report

The 2009 Bay Area Maker Faire was held in San Mateo, California on May 30th and 30st. This unique event combines electronics, robotics, radio control, crafts, sculpture, and much more, and has some of the coolest things you can find this side of Burning Man. I’m going to concentrate on the radio controlled projects I saw.

Some of the RC naval vessels, ready to fight.
A detail of the gun turrets.

One big feature of the show is radio controlled naval warfare. Scale modelers from a local club brought their World War I and II cruisers, destroyers, and battleships to duke it out in a makeshift lake. These feature working, CO2-driven weapons which fire BB guns and ball bearings in an effort to sink enemy ships. Some of the larger boats featured rotating gun turrets, automatic reloading, and water pumps to stay afloat as long as possible. The battle I saw had about ten ships fighting in two teams, as Axis vs. Allies. It was pretty entertaining to watch and we did see one boat completely sunk.

Some of the kites used to lift the camera rigs.
A home-made KAP mount.
Wireless video from the kite (must be on a different frequency than the transmitter).
Another larger SLR rig.

In one of the indoor exhibits there were a variety of kite aerial photograph RC rigs. Most had two servos giving pan and tilt control, with a third servo or an infrared trigger to trip the shutter. Several systems also had realtime wireless video transmission back to the ground to aid in composing the shot, using the digital camera’s video output jack. The cameras ranged from small point and shoots to digital SLRs, presumably according to the lifting power of the kite and the budget/risk the photographer wants.

The Maker Store was also fun to browse. They had a seemingly endless variety of electronic kits, some radio controlled, some autonomous, and some just fun. I also met some guys from, who had a Multiplex Easy Star on display with an Arduino-powered autonomous setup. It was able to fly between GPS waypoints and even return automatically to the launch coordinates if the radio signal was lost.

An amusing dust buster robot.
One well-armored vehicle.

Finally, I saw a few more unusual projects. There were several battle bots, each weighing more than 200 pounds. There were also some amazing metal spheres roaming around an outdoor area, playing music, avoiding obstacles, etc. Then there was the enormous, hydraulic-powered Electric Giraffe, which can both roll and walk. It was controlled by a Spektrum DX7. And maybe most impressive to your average Star Wars geek, were near-perfect, full-size, radio controlled R2-D2 models. These were easily realistic enough to be used in the movies themselves.

The roaming metal spheres.
The Electric Giraffe. Did I mention it was big?
R2-D2, with and without the skin.

I’ve only scratched the surface of what goes on at Maker Faire – it’s well worth attending yourself. You can check out Gizmodo’s Maker Faire coverage for more from the show, or check out some YouTube videos.
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