Maker Faire Bay Area 2015

Three weeks ago Ben, Eben, Liz, Matt, Pete, Rachel and I headed to San Mateo, California for Maker Faire Bay Area 2015. We thought it might get a bit busy, so we roped in Paul from Pimoroni to give us a hand, and we also had lots of help from fantastic local volunteer Dean over the weekend.

Maker Faire events are a showcase of making, where people who make eveything from elaborate marble runs to drawing robots to needle-felted T-Rexes to backyard rollercoasters get to show their projects, and visitors get to experience the tremendous potential of making and to try things out for themselves. They call Maker Faire Bay Area The Greatest Show & Tell On Earth, and it’s easy to see why as soon as you arrive. It’s full of this kind of stuff:

MegaBot

MegaBot is a bit terrifying even when it’s unpowered

This giant metal-plated fire-breathing rhino has headlamps and a registration plate

This giant metal-plated fire-breathing rhino has headlamps and a registration plate

We peeled ourselves away from the giant fire-breathing animals and got our stand set up. This year the event opened earlier than usual, with a special preview day on Friday to give educators, school groups and others a chance to meet and talk with makers for an afternoon before the big crowds arrived on Saturday and Sunday. About half an hour before the doors opened, Pete and I tested out the DOT board activity that we’d be doing with children.

The DOT board, which Rachel created, made its debut at SXSW Create, and it’s great: you use electrically conductive paint to complete a connect-the-dots picture on a printed circuit board, and then connect the board to a Raspberry Pi and run a Python program to see the Pi respond to the connections you’ve painted – in this case, you see an image of an aeroplane in your choice of colour. It went down very well with the school groups whom we loved meeting on Friday:

Children paint DOT boards

Group of children painting DOT boards

My absolute favourite part of this activity is watching children add a dab of conductive paint to the DOT board to select an extra colour while it’s connected to a Pi with the Python program running. A lot of the time we did this in response to kids asking, “But what happens if I…?” It was a jaw-dropping moment for many of them when we suggested they try it and see, and they watched the image on the screen change colour. It was great to see how the DOT board showed children part of the relationship between hardware and software, inputs and outputs in a very direct way that made a real impression. Participants took their (wipe-able) DOT boards away with them to re-use with their own, their friends’ or their schools’ Raspberry Pis.

On Saturday morning we regrouped ready for the big crowds.

We soon learned that having just eight or nine students around the DOT boards counted as a lull. We went through 1200 DOT boards over the weekend, and as well as helping children with the activity, there were usually at least two of us talking to visitors who were interested in other aspects of Raspberry Pi, answering questions and handing out resource cards to whet people’s appetite for our growing collection of free, high-quality online resources. We gave out around 7000 stickers to visitors, and Eben, Matt, Ben and Paul gave talks at several of the event’s 12 stages. You can see how busy the Faire got in an interview that Eben gave in front of our stand – you’ll spot a number of us in the background if you look closely!

We knew that children were getting excited about hardware with our DOT activity, and we felt very proud that Maker Faire rated it too; here’s a Maker Faire Editor’s Choice blue ribbon hanging beside one of our banners.

I was lucky enough to be able to spend some time away from our stand and visit other makers. Plenty were using Raspberry Pi in their own projects, and I enjoyed saying hello to Acrobotic and Weaved, finally meeting Mugbot in person, and eyeing up cute wheeled gardening robots that do your weeding for you:

It was a truly outstanding weekend, and, while bigger than most, this year’s Maker Faire Bay Area is just one of many events we attend to talk to people and introduce them to learning and teaching with Raspberry Pi. Within a week of packing up, our team headed off to introduce the DOT boards to a Raspberry Jam in Utah and to prepare for a Picademy in York and an exhibition in Liverpool. And, of course, there’s always a Jam coming up somewhere in the world, and although we can’t get to all of them, we think of them all often! Why not see if there’s one near you?