Giant bots, soldering irons, and fire-breathing dragons, oh my! Twice a year, the two-day Maker Faire festival crops up in the San Francisco Bay Area and in New York as a nexus for home-brew projects thought up by tinkerers of all stripes. From propane-fueled robotics and Kickstarter campaigns to interactive crowd-pleasers, these were the fantastical, whimsical, and breathtaking exhibits that caught our eye this year.
Duane Flatmo built this gigantic fire-breathing steampunk-style octopus, officially known as El Pulpo Mecánico, over a period of three and a half months, on the base of a 1973 Ford 250 4x4. Its bulging eyes and pulsing tentacles are driven by a giant cam through the center, not hydraulics or computers.
The towering El Pulpo mostly minds his tentacled manners, steadily warming the crowd with his bright beacons of flame, fueled by 200 gallons of propane each day. But keep your distance -- even if you're a sucker for robotic aquaculture, not enough water in the fairgrounds can douse these righteous flames.
Plenty of cardboard "robots" lumbered around the Maker Faire, but none were as committed as "Dennis," who hails from Los Angeles. He dons his wooden soldier as he made it, piece by painstaking piece. The layers of plywood, soaked in water and adhered with Gorilla Glue, took months to build; Dennis spent a week on just the pipe wrench attachment alone. Each arm weighs about 10 pounds -- the hands weigh at least 5.5 apiece -- and the torso adds another 12 pounds. Dennis' voice barely squeaks out through his heavy crown. Is it easy to ambulate in such heavy-duty armor? I wood-n't count on it.
Tony Belmontes and his friends were tired of getting the lights stolen from their bikes. So the trio created Drop Bar, a line of Bluetooth-connected handlebars with a Cycloptic 500-lumen LED in the front and lower-powered endcap lights that act as both turn signals and speedometers.
Drop Bar's companion apps for iOS and Android help you track down a stolen bike. You can tweak the color spectrum all you want, but expect to recharge the handlebars -- via an 18mm-long 2.5 mm monojack-to-USB connector -- after two weeks of active run time. Drop Bar costs $280 apiece.
A bathtub, bowling balls, and colorful wooden crates mark this remarkable 16-piece, Rube Goldberg-like puzzle -- called The Mousetrap -- which dazzles with dizzying kinetic fury every hour at the Faire, set to a soundtrack of haunting vaudevillian tunes.
Its precisely, constantly tuned physics are eye-boggling for sure, but the 50,000-pound Mousetrap's charm comes in its colorful and humorous details, like the license plates that add a functional role shaping the sides of this curve as well as decorative personality.
BioLite's camp stove, introduced in 2012, channels surplus electricity into extra charge for your electronics. The new, larger BaseCamp model recently launched on Kickstarter and promises to create 5 watts of electricity as it burns a cleaner fire. The company will sell the stove globally and is in pilot projects to roll it out in India and countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where indoor smoke inhalation causes major health concerns.
Its designer drafted the robotic hand you see here using SketchUp and manufactured it from polycarbonate material. The hand can move fingers singly or in a group, and can perform functions like pinching fingers shut. "I'm afraid isn't very elegant," the maker demurred. "Don't kid yourself," a bystander replied, "this is elegant."
Most faire-going rugrats run through the arches of the lit-up "botanical" known as Magnolia Starship. But peering up from the center brings a more relaxing treat of ever-changing colors from pale yellow to rich, deep purples and blues.
Professional designer Jared Ficklin contemplates the point of zen relaxation with this automated robot. If the robot fulfills the raking action for you, he asks, does the viewer then meditate on the robot?
"I want to eat you!" a young boy screams as he chases a cupcake on wheels. There's nothing robotic about these sweet rides, which are built from a sturdy wooden round before being decorated with faux frosting.