Georgia Tech held the first annual Atlanta Mini Maker Faire on September 10th, 2011 in the Manufacturing Related Disciplines Complex (MRDC). The Faire invited makers, such as crafters or engineers, vendors and enthusiasts from around the Southeast to come together in celebration of the unique products of ingenious minds. Contraptions at the fair varied from robotic R2D2s to wired textiles.
Eric Weinhoffer, a fourth year Mechanical Engineering undergraduate student and event organizer, founded this Faire from his desire to attend the New York Maker Faire. This first Faire attracted close to fifty presenters. Most of these presenters were non-profit organizations initiated by a group of people with common interests. One such organization was Freeside Atlanta, a Hacker Space located in a prodigious warehouse in the midst of Atlanta, Georgia. This Hacker Space includes people from various backgrounds—from mechanical engineers to programmers who have worked for Google. During the Faire, one of the inventions the members of Freeside Atlanta discussed was a 3-D printer. While most 3-D printers are very expensive, they manufactured affordable 3-D printers that can assist in printing many prototypes. The process of 3-D printing is simple: a computer program draws an outline of the object that the hardware follows point by point. It is built on an x-y-z plane, thus printing one layer on top of another. Most Hacker Spaces have one of two different types of printers: the C-Version and the Z-Corp. The latter printer type, Z-Corp, used by Freeside Atlanta, essentially works by building materials with a type of powder called epoxy. The Hacker Space has a resident podiatrist from DeKalb Medical Center who has been designing 3-D printed lower extremities. Donald, the President of Freeside Atlanta, explains, “You don’t really have a convenient way to practice surgery unless it’s through a patient’s foot. So, essentially, the idea is to use these as a practice platform by physicians for their surgeries. ”
Such three dimensional printers have been put to good use by many of the vendors as well. Colleen Jordan, a recent graduate from Georgia Tech, used the printers to construct her jewelry. Jordan created the jewelry out of plastic and a thermoplastic polymer called Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Another not-for-profit organization, Hacker Space Charlotte, used them to print out rotational camera parts, which comprise a small six-axis “helicopter” used to take pictures for real estate. As these vendors have discovered, 3-D printers are a great investment for developing prototypes.
Other types of creations showcased included working circuits handcrafted into textiles. One such vendor, Hannah Perner-Wilson, created tilt sensors, stroke sensors, and closed circuit crochets. To make the tilt sensor, Perner-Wilson plastered six pieces of conductive fabric flower petals on a base fabric and added a needle to the middle. She then layered the fabrics on top of each other and connected the thread to each petal, repeating the process a number of times. Finally, sewn-in LEDs would light up when the associated sensor was contacted by a rotating metal bead. . Another one of her creations was a textile with a push button, which was made using an Arduino platform – an open source micro controller chip.
For those inspired by the inventions viewed at the faire, the Music Arts Science Social (MASS), a giant workshop, can help ordinary people come up with project ideas. This non-profit organization assists people with the technical aspects of their creations as well as with projecting a timeframe for project completion. This organization is famous for its Big Brother project, which consists of a small television with a moving face hooked up to a webcam to allow “Big Brother’s” eyes to move about and watch spectators.
As a whole, the Atlanta Mini Maker Faire was a success. People from Georgia Tech and the greater Atlanta area came together to celebrate and showcase creative combinations of science and art.