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Six Tech Trends Spotted At Maker Faire KC (Gallery)

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The fourth annual Maker Faire KC took place Saturday and Sunday at Union Station Kansas City. Sometimes referred to the “greatest show and tell on Earth,” the festival featured more than 350 booths exhibiting technology and do-it-yourself, or DIY, craft projects.

In perusing the cutting-edge technology and other projects on display at Maker Faire KC this year, several trends and themes emerged:

1. Educators using the Maker Movement

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Johnson County’s Central Resource Library is one of the first in the Kansas City area to open a makerspace. | Sarah Darby/Missouri Business Alert

A huge theme of this year’s Maker Faire KC centered around how the worldwide event could influence education. One of the event’s most prominent speakers, Maker Media president and CEO Dale Dougherty, touched on education during a presentation on Saturday. Dougherty helped found MAKE Magazine and the world’s first Maker Faire in the Bay Area.

“There needs to be a makerspace at every school in America, every library in America,” Dougherty said.

Numerous colleges and libraries were represented at the event. Additionally, during a panel discussion on maker education, representatives from Time Warner, Pittsburg State University and Union Station’s recently opened makerspace discussed the importance of bringing hands-on learning to kids.

2. Popularity of open-source hardware

Scott Cooper displayed his Death to Sharpie projects at Maker Faire KC. Cooper used Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized computer, to program a contraption that draws photos in high detail with Sharpies. Sarah Darby/Missouri Business Alert

Scott Cooper displayed his Death to Sharpie projects at Maker Faire KC. Cooper used Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized computer, to program a contraption that draws photos in high detail with Sharpies. | Sarah Darby/Missouri Business Alert

The booths at Maker Faire KC overwhelmingly featured DIY projects. Although some makers have turned their ideas into profitable businesses, many makers create mostly out of a desire to share their projects. This sharing spirit was especially evident at this year’s event.

Many booths featured 3-D printed projects and other projects created using different types of circuit boards that basically work like mini computers. Most makers used open-source technology, meaning the files and designs used for their projects could be shared with others.

3. Hobbyists turning ideas into projects

The founders of EepyBird started off experimenting with Coke and Mentos before they became popular on YouTube. Sarah Darby/Missouri Business Alert

The founders of EepyBird started off experimenting with Coke and Mentos before they became popular on YouTube. | Sarah Darby/Missouri Business Alert

Another big takeaway from the event is that anyone can be a maker. Most of the projects featured at the faire started with an idea and a creative person who believed they could turn their idea into a reality. Bandit Guns founder Bob Coulston, for example, started his company because his son wanted him to make a really cool rubber band gun. That idea turned into a prototype for a laser-cut rubber band gun, and Bandit Guns did $500,000 in sales in 2013.

EepyBird, otherwise known as the Coke and Mentos guys, started experimenting with Coke and Mentos explosions. They then posted a video on YouTube that got millions of views, and they left their jobs to start EepyBird.com. The site features videos of a whole range of experiments and a store where experiment kits can be purchased.

On Saturday, EepyBird performed a two-minute choreographed show and encouraged others to experiment with ideas. “TRY this at home,” they encouraged the crowd during their performance.

4. Doing provides proof of learning

A father helps his young son solder together a blinking MAKE pin at the solder station in Union Station's new makerspace. Cowtown Computer Congress, a local hackerspace helped teach the skill. Sarah Darby/Missouri Business Alert

A father helps his young son solder together a blinking MAKE pin at the solder station in Union Station’s new makerspace. Cowtown Computer Congress, a local hackerspace helped teach the skill. | Sarah Darby/Missouri Business Alert

Teaching was a huge part of Maker Faire KC. Many booths showed parents and kids the end result of a project, and also taught them how to make the project themselves.

Modio, an app that lets kids design characters that can be 3-D printed, had an interactive design station. At the Union Station makerspace, kids could learn how to solder together a blinking pin. Many attendees left the festival with jewelry, crafts and tech projects they had learned to make themselves right at the faire.

5. Sponsors seek to boost entrepreneurship, STEM skills

Sponsors like Raspberry Pi Geek actively support the maker community year round. Sarah Darby/Missouri Business Alert

Maker Faire sponsors like Raspberry Pi Geek actively support the maker community. | Sarah Darby/Missouri Business Alert

Big names such as the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Time Warner Cable, Honeywell and Sprint sponsored this year’s faire. The Kauffman Foundation helped support the first faire in Kansas City, and representatives of the foundation facilitated panels and dispensed information about Kansas City’s entrepreneurial community at this year’s event. At Honeywell’s booth, parents could get information about the company’s efforts to engage kids in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, fields while kids played with 3-D printed rocket ships. At the panel on maker education, each of the companies spoke about a desire to see kids become more interested in STEM fields. 

6. Nothing is too unique

Two young girls look at a Dalek, as seen in the Doctor Who TV series. Sarah Darby/Missouri Business Alert

Two young girls look at a Dalek, as seen in the Doctor Who TV series. | Sarah Darby/Missouri Business Alert

Maker Faire KC is a haven for the weird, unique and quirky. All kinds of niche interests could be seen at the event. There were special effects costume creators and R2-D2 builders. One booth was devoted entirely to chain-link outfits. At another booth, two 12 year olds were making stuffed animal monsters. The variety of projects on display at the more than 350 booths meant there was something at Maker Faire KC for all sorts of people.