Tinker With Robots and Launch a Pumpkin at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire | Tech | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » Tech

Tinker With Robots and Launch a Pumpkin at the Champlain Mini Maker Faire

State of the Arts


Published September 26, 2012 at 11:13 a.m.


Want to get schooled in Lock Picking 101? Load a pumpkin-chuckin’ trebuchet? Ogle an LED-illuminated cemetery marker? Or wail on a Really Weird Big Bass Guitar?

If you want to do any of those things, head to Shelburne Farms this Saturday for the first-ever Champlain Mini Maker Faire, where inventors, artists, educators, mad scientists and tinkerers will be showing off their creations, leading workshops and launching rockets.

Maker faires have been cropping up all over the world since 2006, when MAKE magazine publisher Dale Dougherty held the first gathering in San Mateo, Calif. Hundreds of “makers” — basically, anyone who creates something for the joy of creating rather than for profit — get together each year in New York and Detroit for massive fairs that MAKE characterizes as “part science fair, part county fair and part something entirely new.”

The maker movement has been gaining steam in Vermont, and reached a tipping point last year when a handful of enthusiasts, including sound artist Jenn Karson, started a group called Vermont Makers. Soon, local hackers, programmers and other creative hobbyists were coming out of the woodwork. This weekend, they’ll all come together to play, experiment and share ideas.

Spearheading the Champlain Mini Maker Faire has been Doug Webster, a coordinator for the Vermont Department of Education, aerospace engineer, president of the National Association for Workforce Improvement and host of the VCAM television series “A Renewed Culture of Innovation.” Webster was drawn to the maker concept for its educational potential. “We want to steer away from the ‘silos’ as much as we can,” he says, referring to the way most students learn isolated disciplines. “This is a good way of integrating everything: innovation, technology, even the arts.”

Around the world, access to new, modular, open-source technology is fueling the maker movement. Case in point: the Arduino, a dirt-cheap, customizable microcontroller that can be used to power anything from a miniature airplane to a pumpkin-headed robot monster. You’ll find both, plus countless other Arduino-based creations, at Shelburne Farms this weekend.

“These maker faires are happening all over the world, but the Champlain Maker Faire has the most Vermontyness of any of them,” Karson says. Her favorite example? The Critter Twitter Trap, a Havahart trap that notifies the trapper by tweet when it’s caught a creature. “I wouldn’t expect to see that in San Mateo,” Karson says.

But don’t expect all the projects to be flashy and high tech. Organizers are just as excited to host innovative wool spinners, and basket weavers who weave railings for staircases. “It’s not so much that it needs to be a new technology,” says Webster. It’s just about “rethinking how you use an old technology in a modern environment.” To put some of those older technologies in context, the day’s program includes a “history of innovation” tour of Shelburne Museum.

For the makers — 50 will attend — the faire is all about creating opportunities for collaboration. “It’s the mash-ups; that’s where invention and ideas come together,” says Karson. Just imagine a lawn full of inventors and builders tinkering side by side. “How are people going to be influenced by the people who are to the left and right of them?” she wonders.

Webster says he’ll consider the event a success if “everybody has a great time and is totally amazed by some of the things that the makers are doing, and they leave wanting to make something themselves.”

Just reading about the makers’ projects has inspired Webster to think about his own. An avid bagpipe player and promoter of Celtic arts in Vermont, Webster is excited about the possibilities of the conductive thread some makers are playing with. “You can run LEDs through clothing and stuff,” he says.

Is Webster planning on illuminating Celtic dancers? “That’s a trade secret,” he says with a laugh.

Champlain Mini Maker Faire. Saturday, September 29, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., at Shelburne Farms.