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Hacked unicorns and unruly robots at Brighton Mini Maker Faire 2015

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Marc Barto

Maker and tech communities organiser (Maker Assembly, London Arduino, Elephant & Castle Mini Maker Faire) @marc_in_london
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Check out: Arduino Day 2015

Each maker faire has its own style. For Brighton it has always been a strong mix of ambitious electronics inventions, traditional or modern craft-making, and workshops geared towards kids to get them hooked on making.

Last weekend, for the 5th edition, the Brighton Mini Maker Faire showed once again how its done by offering a jam-packed programme of digital creativity and do-it-yourself craftiness.

One sure measure of success for a maker faire is the number of new, eccentric, creative and interactive projects on display. On this front Brighton delivered generously. Let’s start this list with…

The bubble-farting unicorn

If there was one project that captured the imagination and inspired visitors to get into electronics, it was no doubt the unicorn hacked with a voice activated bubble machine located… at its rear. Created by Suzana and Gabriela from the theatre collective CyberCitizens, the bubble-farting animatronic was a massive success with both kids and grown-ups.

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New wearable trend: musical tiaras

Actually not really a tiara at all, SENSEries is a stunning playable head-wear celebrating fashion and music. Sounds and colours are produced using “reactive metal objects and motion sensors”. A collaboration between designer Jodie Cartman and musician Crewdson, this headpiece is effectively a wearable music instrument for live performance.

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Twitter, how do you feel?

Projects designed around live data visualisation are still very rare in maker events. With the Emoti project, a team of artists and developers have created an immersive installation that combines colours and audio to represent the emotional state of the Twitter-world.

Based on Raspberry Pi and HDMPi, Emoti pulls keywords from real-time tweets and allocates them to 5 emotion types (happy, sad, surprised, afraid and angry). The screen placed under a series of lasercut wave forms successfully gives the illusion of 3D colour-changing ripples.

Making Spaces

It is always a healthy sign to see many hacker & maker spaces exhibiting new projects. This year no less than 6 spaces showcased their crazy inventions.

A special mention for Hitchin Hackspace who brought some impressive projects, including BigHak: a giant ridable version of the BigTrak toy from the 80’s (you might have seen BigHak at the EMFCamp last summer). You can either manually drive the futuristic Sci-Fi tank or program it with a phone-app facing a Raspberry Pi camera. The full project is documented on this post if you feel inclined to build your own.

BigHak even has its own twitter account, rumour says it has become self-aware.

The local hackspace Build Brighton showcased the beautiful Light Synth music keyboard that was created by digital artist Seb Lee-Delisle for his live show at the Digital Festival. The Synth works with addressable LED strips and capacitive touch sensors for each note which are converted to midi with a teensy 3.1 board.

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Each year Reading Hackspace and TVRRUG showcase their latest electronics and engineering projects. Here Malcolm is demonstrating the 3D-printed prototype of a Stirling heat engine.

Real-time Light Painting

Perhaps the most enjoyable creation at the show, a real time live painting installation by Phil from Thundering Jacks using an elegant and simple set up: video-projector + infrared camera and LED torch. The kids had tremendous fun mixing colours and using the wall as a large canvas.

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History of making

Should we save great installations from the electronic graveyard?

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It was sadly the last occasion to enjoy the amazing Hammer Pong, as the installation has been sold (probably because of its size) to another happy owner. This huge installation (5 meters high, 66 large LED fairground lights) is an highly entertaining mash-up between a “test your strength” game & the classic Pong.

This raises a new question for the maker community: can we save these great installations from being pulled apart for components? If most old projects end-up hacked into new ones or collecting dust on a shelf, surely some of the ambitious inventions who have brought great joy to visitors should be salvaged. Brighton is ideally placed to sell these installations to one of the many local amusement arcades, but ultimately the wider community should help makers find solutions to save these projects.

More crazy machines

Many more great inventions were on display: Chromagraph, Minimillcnc, Product Assembly 3D Printer, Dalek and traffic cones robots… Impossible to list them all so here is quick selection.

Designed by Machine Realm, this sturdy aluminium machine mechanises the traditional art of marbling.

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Stop the train game: A rare mash-up between model engineering and electronics, Neil aka G7AQK has created a game simple only in appearance. The player has to judge the right timing for the train to stop exactly at the station. An Arduino Nano board controls the speed of the train, detects when the button is pressed and displays the speed and score on the screen.

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Worth a special mention: Sally Kentfield hacked her Brother knitting machine by hooking it up to her laptop and loading patterns directly to the machine. This allows ambitious and unusual projects, like the Knitted Periodic Table blanket, and also offers visitors the ability to draw, scan and knit.

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A kids’ faire

This year the workshops were clearly geared towards children who could pick from an amazing range of activities

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The Mechanical Ensemble Workshop by Fire the Inventor taught kids about engineering while building automata from push-fit components. The Exploring Senses group organised plenty of activities around reusable materials and arts & craft.

Lasercut projectiles: Martin and Dominic from Just Add Sharks built a super-fun lasercut catapult range which was the victim of its own success, with non-stop catapulting and battering by kids all day (more details on the design here).

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Photo by Martin Raynsford

If this show is a window into the future, it looks like kids are going to be really good at knitting, sewing digital textiles, soldering, drawing, pantograph-ing, live-coding…

And one more thing

In spite of the funding challenges, Brighton once again pulled off an impressive show. On the very short list of regrets for this year: No VR, Drones or bio-hacking projects, or talks and workshops for adults. But you can’t have everything at a “mini” maker faire, so let’s add these instead to our wish list for next year.

To leave on a serious note, and to keep you going until the 2016 edition, let’s have one last look at this fantastic unicorn…

Posted 09th Sep 2015
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