protoTYPING: Jeremy’s First Maker Faire Experience

protoTYPING: Jeremy’s First Maker Faire Experience

Charlotte’s Mini Maker Faire: The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth comes to the Queen City

I used to be addicted to the magazine section of Barnes and Noble. I loved the way the racks were angled just enough so that you were not quite sure how to walk through them. I loved how when you blurred your eyes you could see the spectrum shift from the whites, pinks, and yellows of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire fade to the greens of High Times and Fine Gardening to the blues, blacks, and reds of Motor Trend and Wired. I loved picking up a fresh issue, you know, the one just behind the one on top, holding it to my nose, and flipping the pages with my thumb to release the perfume of the ink-infused pages. Far from the children’s section, and just a few feet from the souls tip-toeing through the self-help titles, it was both a safe haven and a bounty of images and ideas that tickled my senses.

When I moved to North Carolina almost 10 years ago, my apartment was only 1/4 mile from the Barnes and Noble. It was a distance I was too happy to walk to get my fix. Fortunately it was adjacent to a Total Wine store with an awesome beer selection, making it my de facto journey on a Friday night. After fingering my way through the racing and automotive section, I was always drawn to a magazine called Make. It was an enigma on the newsstand as it was thick with small pages and had barely any ads. At the time it was super expensive and only came out quarterly, but I would always buy it because it was filled with all kinds of great hacks and experiments that you could do in your garage, kitchen or living room. While I didn’t necessarily do any of the activities myself, it felt just as fun seeing the crazy things other people were up to.

Fast forward to the present day, and the niche little publication has become the mainstream, dominant voice of the maker movement. The magazine continues on as a monthly (with regular size pages), and is the flagship of Maker Media, which includes the Maker Shed store and events called Maker Faires. Maker Faires are self titled “The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth”, and play like a science fair on steroids. There are two big ones that?are held in San Francisco and New York, and the first one was held in 2006. Now there are Mini Maker Faires hosted in cities all over the world. I have been trying to fabricate a reason to attend the New York Maker Faire for years, but have yet to pull it off. However, the first Mini Maker Faire in Charlotte was held this October, and I jumped at the chance to go.

Charlotte's Mini Maker Faire

The Mini Maker Faire Charlotte was held at Discovery Place, which is an awesome science museum in the heart of the city. The exhibits were spread out over three floors in the museum, and there were different events and speakers running throughout the day. The atmosphere was electric as the museum was open concurrently with the Mini Maker Faire and the place was teeming with people. There were also exhibitors setup on Tryon Street adjacent to the museum, which was closed to traffic for the day. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day which tempered the excitement for the outdoor activities. Despite the miserable weather it was an inspiring event with lots of great makers showing off their work. Here are some of my favorite exhibits from the Charlotte Maker Faire.

3D Printed Vehicles

There were two notable 3D printed vehicles on display. The most eye catching was the 3D printed Shelby Cobra exhibited by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. While made by industry pros, it was still a site to behold. Anyone that has tried to sand and paint their own 3D prints will appreciate the finish on the Cobra. Fittingly for the home city of the US National Whitewater Center, there was also the world’s first water ready 3D printed kayak. It was made by Jim Smith, an employee at 3D Systems. He built his own large format printer and made the kayak in 28 parts that were bolted together.

3D printed Shelby Cobra

The 3D printed Shelby Cobra made by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Competitive Robots

Competitive robots are a hot trend in the maker space and they were out in full force. The most interesting to me was the Charlotte FPV (first person view) Racing League. They race flying drones in a field on the outskirts of the city, and they were showing off their custom carbon fiber race drones. There were also two live robot competition areas. One featured small versions of the fighting robots you see on TV. The other was a robot hockey arena where two teams of kids were battling to get a puck into the other team’s net.

Mini battle bots compete at the Mini Maker Faire

Mini battle bots in competition

Maker/Hacker Spaces

Maker spaces are popping up in cities all over the world and the local chapters were out in force at the Charlotte Mini Maker Faire. The Forge from Greensboro, NC, TinkerIt from Mooresville, NC, and Hackerspace Charlotte were all showing off their hacked creations. Hackerspace Charlotte hosted a workshop at the event to teach kids how to build circuits and solder.

Charlotte Hackers teaching children how to build

The Charlotte Hackerspace doing an electronics workshop.


There were many exhibits showing how to “make” life. The hosts, Discovery Place, had an exhibit showing how to grow baby tree frogs, including raising flies for them to eat. They also were showing how they raise baby jellyfish for their aquarium. There was also a local farmer on hand to show how to make honey.


Fashion designers were also in on the fun at Mini Maker Faire. Students from the Charlotte Art Institute created a line of clothing from discarded goods. Their EcoFab Trash Couture took center stage during a fashion show where models wore pieces made from old paint brushes, condoms and other trash to show how sustainability can also be haute couture.

Makers can be fashionable

A model showing off an EcoFab Trash couture dress.

My first trip to a Maker Faire event was a long time in coming, but well worth the wait. I was drinking from a fire hose seeing all of the great projects and exhibits. While disclosure issues may deter you from exhibiting your next great idea at your local Maker Faire, they are well worth the trip to network and get tips on how and where you might be able to build your next prototype. I hope that this will be an annual event in the Queen City, and maybe next time I will show off some of my own creations.

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