Tech Geeks Shine At Maker Faire

Cupcake Robot CBS

At the annual Maker Faire just outside San Francisco, the rockets soar, the robots roar, and the Radio Flyer wagons have 300 horsepower under the hood.

Dale Dougherty, the publisher of Make magazine, created the faire and he says it's the next new thing.

"This is kind of like a world's fair by and for the people," he told CBS News technology correspondent Daniel Sieberg. "It's not like institutions. It's not companies bringing stuff. It's really individuals just saying, "Here's what I do."

The Maker Faire invites people to experience the work of artists, inventors, tinkerers and hackers from all over the country — people who don't just think out of the box, the things they think up never came in a box. Just about everything here is completely, lovingly home-made, like Lindsey Lawlor's lumbering, life-size electric giraffe, Russell.

"What we have here is this little model that we brought home as a nice, little, single motor walking action. We took this model and sized it up times 24," he said.

So far, Russell has cost Lawlor about $20,000.

"He's constantly munching on my wallet. But it's a very rewarding experience. I've never had so much fun," he said.

Fun and fizzle were the main objectives for juggler Fritz Grobe and lawyer Stephen Voltz when they first dropped Mentos candy into a bottle of diet Coke.

"Just like everyone else, we went out in our backyard. We dropped a handful of Mentos into a bottle of soda," Grobe said.

"But about two seconds later, we looked at each other and thought we've got to do something big with this," Voltz said.

"Yeah," Grobe added. "How far can we take this?"

They took it far enough to earn sponsorships from both companies (which comes in handy).

"We're regularly doing about 100 bottles," Grobe said. "Which means we're using about 600 Mentos. So over the course of the last year, we've been through over 3,000 bottles of soda and over 18,000 Mentos."

Food items seem to be popular ideas. William Keller invented cupcake cars — little cupcake-shaped vehicles that hold a person and are solar-powered.

"You know, it's looks," Keller said. "You get these looks of pure joy and excitement when people see them. I mean, the typical response is, 'Oh, cupcakes!' You know? But the looks on the faces I just enjoy, are great to see."

Before you dismiss Maker Faire as just a gathering of mad scientists or backyard tinkerers — or people with too much free time — listen to Steve Wozniak.

"You know, this whole fair kind of represents something that was so prominent in electronics when I was young," he said. "Sit down, build little devices. And we did it mostly for fun."

Of course, Wozniak's 'little device' was the personal computer, which he and Steve Jobs revolutionized when they founded Apple in the '70s.

Wozniak and his latest creation — a new memoir — were one of the main attractions at the Faire, that and the opportunity for often-solitary inventors to socialize.

"A lot of the people here are shy. And they're socially outsiders," he said. "And they just like to play with unusual things because that gives them a specialness without having to talk to other people."

But there was nothing timid about these robot gladiators. Just don't call them robots, said 15-year-old robot expert Tony Parkanis.

"A robot has to interact, has to be some kind of physical thing in its environment, that reacts to its environment," he said.

This, Parkanis said, is just a "remote controlled smash-em-up-fest."

One small device trawled through a maze of rooms, programmed to seek out and snuff a candle. "It follows the walls, and it counts how many rooms it's been in to determine which one of the walls to follow," he said. "Once it's in the room, it uses like a smoke detector to see if there's a candle in the room. Then it uses a path wire sensor to pinpoint the candle, and hopefully blow it out."

Since the Maker Faire is all about making something, Sieberg found sixth-grader Kevin Cooper to help him build, and launch, a model rocket.

"You want to go into rocket science one day?" Sieberg asked Cooper.

"I already am a rocket scientist," Cooper responded.

With some much-needed guidance, Sieberg discovered the real excitement of Maker Faire is being reminded that the sky really is the limit.
  • Caitlin Johnson

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