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Anh-Minh Le | Photo: Becca Henry | May 20, 2016
Tinkerers and technologists unite for an annual festival that emphasizes ingenuity and innovation.
For three days in May, the San Mateo County Event Center will be overrun with unconventional sights like electric planes, giant soap bubbles and homemade R2- D2s, as the 11th annual Maker Faire Bay Area comes to town. “We like to say that we created a newfangled county fair that celebrates making,” says festival cofounder Sherry Huss. “Instead of pigs and pies, we have rockets and robots.”
In its first year, the event attracted 22,000 people; last year, attendance was estimated at 145,000. (Rumor has it that the nearby San Carlos Airport experiences a major uptick in private-jet traffic the weekend of the fair.) For 2016, organizers anticipate more than 1,200 ideas will be shared—among them a project by the students of Dos Pueblos Engineering Academy and an interactive art installation, called “Tapigami,” by Danny Scheible. Most makers are provided with exhibition space for free; the more hands-on and educational their presentation, the more space they are allotted. “We see them as the talent,” explains Huss. “Since they take time out to participate and work so hard, we give them a place to showcase what they do.” Those who are selling goods are charged a small fee, and additional revenue is raised from sponsorships and admissions.
The Maker Faire was conceived by Huss and Dale Dougherty as a family-friendly affair, with a breadth of activities. According to Huss, one of the most popular is the Google-sponsored station that allows kids and adults to learn to solder. “Everyone gets to complete an exercise,” she says, “and you walk away with something you made.” The Swap-O-Rama-Rama, which she describes as “a clothing swap with a twist,” has been around since inception and is another highlight. Designers and sewing machines are on hand to help guests revamp garments, transforming existing pieces into one-of-a-kind fashions. Elsewhere, the Maker to Market pavilion focuses on new product ideas and manufacturing; this year, the PancakeBot, dubbed the world’s first food printer—it can generate pancakes in the design of your choice—will be featured. On the final afternoon of the festival, MythBusters’ Adam Savage is scheduled to give a talk that is expected to draw a huge crowd.
Although there are now 175 Maker Faires held worldwide, the Bay Area iteration is considered a flagship. “We aggregate a lot of groups that normally just talk to themselves, staying within their own community,” says Huss of the range of makers at the event. “We’re able to understand what they do and give them all a home.”
Maker Faire Bay Area tickets are available from $25, with weekend passes and special promotions available, May 20-22, San Mateo County Event Center, 1346 Saratoga Drive, San Mateo.
Originally published in the May issue of Silicon Valley