The 21 Coolest Sights from Maker Faire

Where robot fanciers meet their makers—and the future.

By Melissa J. Perenson

Maker Faire Bay Area 2016 settled into the San Mateo Event Center last weekend for its unique brand of show-and-tell. With more than 1,300 makers showcasing everything from crafts to drone races to the next great Kickstarter phenom, the event had something for everyone who is into tech, crafts, DIY, robots, and gadgetry.

We wandered the fairgrounds—dodging steampunk vehicles, itinerant robots, and even a working landspeeder—and found some exceedingly cool projects that are coming your way soon. Some are a tad pricey for the casual maker; others are both cool and inexpensive.

21. PancakeBot

The PancakeBot represents the culmination of six years of visionary work by designer Miguel Valenzuela. Earlier iterations at Maker Faire were little more than jury-rigged devices combining a computer-controlled 3D printer, a pancake-batter cartridge, and an electric griddle.

image alt text

The shipping version showcased at Maker Faire, following crowd-funding campaigns and a partnership with Storebound, is much more refined. It uses an Atmel board, sells for $299, and is available online at Storebound and in the outside world at places like Bed Bath & Beyond. Making breakfast has never been so much fun: Just design your pancake and load it to the printer via SD card.

20. Kniterate

Need a hand? Put down the needles and let this industrial-strength, computer-controlled knitting machine help you do the creating. Kniterate, which hits Kickstarter in late September, is designed to knit patterns in four colors. You can upload and create patterns using the company’s Web service, and then send those patterns to the Kniterate machine. The device will sell for about $2,500, and should become commercially available in July 2017.

image alt text

19. Polysher

As 3D printing becomes more common, so have certain tell-tale signs of a 3D-printed project—in particular, the layered, striated finish of many fresh-off-the-printer objects, reflecting the additive nature of 3D printing. Polymaker’s two-prong solution consists of its Polysher post-processing finisher and its PolySmooth filaments. After a Kickstarter campaign that ends this week, the Polysher and its PolySmooth filaments should appear in the third or early fourth quarter of 2016; and by the first quarter of 2017, once the company has fulfilled its Kickstarter orders, the products will be available for everyone else.

image alt text

The Kickstarter pricing was $249 for a Polysher and one filament spindle; full pricing for the shipping version has yet to be announced. PolySmooth polyvinyl butyral (PVB) filaments can be smoothed when exposed to microscopic elements of isopropyl alcohol or ethanol. The filaments will come in 11 colors, and can produce the smooth finish that the objects in the photo above possess.

18. SPUD

Arovia’s SPUD (short for "Spontaneous Pop-Up Display") aims for both the camping crowd and the business crowd. The startup has put together a pico projector with a projection display screen and custom optics. You connect the device containing your images to the pico projector via Wi-Fi or HDMI, and the short-depth (12 inches from screen) projector projects images onto a display mounted on a folding, pop-up black box. This arrangement lets you view the 24-inch display in ambient light and, when you’re done, fold it up into its 1.5-pound package. The company plans to run a Kickstarter campaign for the SPUD in early July, and intends to ship the product in March 2017.

image alt text

17. Delta Glove

A finalist on Intel’s America’s Greatest Makers, the Aseah Delta Glove appears poised to make your workouts smarter. Rather than requiring you buy new weights—an approach we’ve encountered with smart weights before—the smarts here are fully portable inside a pair of washable gloves. The gloves contain piezoresistive, pressure-sensitive fabrics that can gauge how much weight you’re lifting, how many reps you’re doing, and how much effort you’re expending. Through haptic feedback and kinetic analysis of your motions, it can even alert you if the gloves detect that you’re lifting the weights improperly.

image alt text

You can pop the blue tracking module out of the white glove (shown above) and put it into a wristband to track your steps and other activity. The Delta Glove is due out in third quarter of 2017.

16. Glowforge

You may have heard that laser 3D printing can generate richly detailed projects. The Glowforge will do just that when it debuts. Glowforge can etch or carve into a range of materials, including wood, acrylic, fabric, leather, and more a dozen other materials. We saw a brilliant, detailed engraving on a MacBook case, and a slew of artistic creations—including the shoe, coaster, and bracelet shown below—that were created with the Glowforge. The printer is large and incorporates a low-resolution 3D camera that can scan objects or even drawings. It lets you get a project started with single-button simplicity, and the accompanying software makes it easy to create items and to identify where you want to print on the material. The company had a rousing crowd-funding round, and it expects to start delivering those early orders in September. Orders placed now will deliver in March 2017, and will cost $2,395.

image alt text

15. O Watch

Don’t confuse this item with the Microsoft parody oPhone. We’re talking about a 3D printable, do-it-yourself smartwatch for kids, made by a kid no less. Only in Silicon Valley. After successfully launching via Kickstarter, the O Watch project went on display for the second year at Maker Faire. The basic $85 kit includes a small OLED display, an Arduino Zero board, a battery, and a para-cord band. You can add temperature and humidity sensors, an atmospheric pressure sensor, and a compass for $24 more. This watch doesn’t attempt to match the finesse of an Apple Watch, but it will give kids with the fun of programming and creating their own watch—a worthy tech project that provides a useful end result, to boot.

image alt text

14. Project J-deite Quarter

In progress for a couple of years now, the Project J-deite Quarter is an impressive sight to behold in motion. This robot is a step along the way toward a fully functional, 3.5-meter-tall robot that researchers from Japan hope to make a reality in 2017. The Quarter, shown here, is a bipedal transformer that can switch between human and vehicle forms. At full height, the Quarter stands 1.3 meters tall and can maintain a walking speed of 1 kilometer per hour. The operator controls the robot via a computer equipped with the V-Sido operating system.

image alt text

13. Mira

Usually a designer of robots focuses on making them capable of performing tasks for you, their human overlord. The Mira Project’s creator, Pixar technical director Alonso Martinez, has his sights set on something different: He wants to explore how a robot can react to human emotions and become part of a fun social interaction. Simple yet appealing in her adorable, egg-shaped form, Mira can detect faces (and track them), understand the tone and pitch of your voice and what that means for your emotions, respond when you touch her or sing to her, and even move her head and blink her eyes. Play peek-a-boo, and she’ll blink and play along with you.

image alt text

The LED light inside Mira plays a major role in her responsiveness to your mood. Mira runs on a Teensy board and Raspberry Pi. Martinez’s initial prototype for Mira debuted last year; he plans to continue his research with Mira, and crowd-fund her creation in the next year or two.

12. CellRobot

Think of Keyi Technology’s CellRobot as the multiheaded creature. A Heart module that connects a cluster of of these moving mini-robots provides power to each Cell. Launching on Kickstarter in June, the Chinese company plans to sell bundles of a Heart, multiple cells, and a an X-Cell (camera, wheel, spotlight, and connector), so you can build all sorts of crazy, moving creatures in whatever combination of shapes you choose. A smartphone or tablet app controls the CellRobot’s movements.

image alt text

11. Ubiquity Robotics

Like many other companies at Maker Faire, Ubiquity Robotics plans to offer a neat way to get makers started on robotics projects. But this robot maker aims a bit larger. The base of the Magni will be able support up to 100 kilograms on its welded aluminum chassis; it has two big wheels and two small wheels that can turn around in tight spaces, and it can be Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.

image alt text

The company plans to launch its Kickstarter in a few months, with the goal of delivering a Magni starting at around $1,000; the basic kit will include a camera and some basic sensors. The device runs Ubuntu and ROS (Robot Operating System) off a Raspberry Pi.

10. Sereneti

Hmmm...maybe there’s hope for us would-be chefs. Founder Timothy Chen describes Sereneti as the Keurig for food. You can either fill your own cartridges with fresh ingredients or buy preloaded cartridges, and then pop them into the system and go. Working with your phone or tablet (iOS or Android), Sereneti will prepare the meal for you. It focuses on single-pot, induction-heated recipes, whether the ones provided by Sereneti or recipes you that program into the system.

image alt text

The system will combine the ingredients in the correct order, at the right time and temperature. To stir the ingredients, the smart appliance uses a proprietary arm that Chen says changes the game in robotic arms: It’s cut at an angle and uses a gimbal to mimic the human motions used in stirring food. Chen expects Sereneti to sell for $499 at retail. But aside from offering mealtime assistance to people like me who can’t follow a recipe in real time, Sereneti has huge potential to help people whose disabilities make it difficult or impossible to stir or stand in one place to cook something.

9. Robo3D

Which would you rather build—your own tabletop arcade or your own drone? A tough choice, but both options are coming from Robo3D. Each 3D print kit will include all of the hardware components you’ll need to get going, and you’ll also get the necessary files to 3D-print the remaining components. The drone kit, for example, has the motors, controller, and electronics you’ll need for assembly.

image alt text

The arcade kit will have an LCD screen and a Raspberry Pi inside, and will provide instructions on how to find games and emulators to download to the device. Both kits will be available for purchase in June from Robo3D. The drone kit will cost $99, and the arcade kit will cost about $200 (final cost to be determined). You can use any 3D printer to finish the kit.

8. Nascent

Another modular system, Nascent Objects aims to make it simple to integrate connected objects into creations. In the foreground (below), you can see Nascent’s conductive tracks integrated into its module. The system runs on an Intel Edison board, and it combines 3D printed shapes that have these conductive tracks. The train shown here includes a wireless camera module that runs at 1080p; the camera is one of 15 modules available. The system is currently in an incubator for developers, and the company expects to offer it by year’s end for makers.

image alt text

7. Magformers Walking Robot

Already, Magformers has a strong reputation with the kindergarten set for providing cool, colorful 3D building tiles. At Maker Faire, Christopher Tidwell, CEO of Magformers, previewed the company’s latest kit: the Walking Robot, due in stores in July for about $100. The idea, says Tidwell, is to give kids a chance to build and create something with movement. "Creativity and imagination tie into movement," he notes. The 45-piece set includes an engine block that drives the robot’s movements backward and forward (you can change speeds, too); bright, gender-neutral color tiles; and a host of options for creation.

image alt text

6. BB-8

Never mind the humans in Star Wars: The Force Awakens: The real breakout star of the film was BB-8. And just as the venerable R2-D2 has his own circle of enthusiasts at R2 Builders, enthusiasts are now taking up the challenge of building BB-8. But BB-8 is entirely 3D-printed and composed largely of triangular patterns that fit together to form the curved panels that make up its rotund body. Making a BB-8 is quite complex. Its lower body alone consists of eight of the aforementioned triangles, each made up of three panels and six surface areas. Once they’ve printed the parts (using PLA filaments), BB-8 makers must sand the layered prints to create a smooth surface, and then paint to create the BB-8 look. Designers haven’t got the mechanics of BB-8’s movements down pat yet, but they’re on their way. Get the plans for 3D printing BB-8 and building your own at the BB-8 Builder’s Club.

image alt text

5. Arduino Star Otto

Arduino has made much of the maker-driven universe possible. The latest Arduino board, introduced at Maker Faire, is the Star Otto. This board packs gesture sensors, can stream audio out, has touchscreen controls, and has audio input, so you can talk at the device, much as you can with an Amazon Echo (and, you can use the Echo or Google Home APIs with Star Otto). The board also has Wi-Fi, a microSD card slot, connectors for a camera and an LCD, a USB host, Bluetooth low-energy, a headphone, and a stereo microphone at front and back. The little robot shown in the image below has gesture sensors at front and back, and a light sensor at its feet, so it can tell when something (like the person’s hand here) is blocking its pathway.

image alt text

4. Skryf

Artist Gijs van Bon’s sandwriter is remarkably elegant for such a long and large machine. This robot crawls along unaided, with a laptop strapped to its chassis as it feeds the words out to the attached sand printer, which forms the text on the ground. This organic, roaming art installation has existed in its present form since 2012, but it remains a crowd-pleaser as it crawls around the Maker Faire, writing a verse in sand that emphasizes the transitory nature of, well, everything, as the Dutch artist notes in his explanation of Skryf.

image alt text

3. Keyboardio Model 01

Let’s face it: Keyboards are perhaps the least sexy of all input devices. Nevertheless, undeterred by this reality, the intrepid founders of Keyboardio set out to create a customizable, ergonomic keyboard unlike any other. With its hardwood chassis and mechanical Matias Alps–inspired keyswitches, the Keyboardio Model 01 looks and feels solidly constructed. A scooped, graduated key layout, along with a generous-size palmrest and the ability to split-angle the keyboard help improve typing comfort.

image alt text

The 64 keys have a QWERTY-style layout, but getting used to the uncommon placement of the peripheral keys takes some time. You can use the keyboard’s graphical mapping utility to change what the keys map to, and to program the keys with macros. The keyboard’s programming is open source, so you can change the LEDs as well as the layout. It will work with Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix, Chrome OS, and Android operating systems. The company expects to ship the keyboard in the fall, at a price of $329.

2. Roy the Robot

Made from laser-cut wood parts, and powered by Arduino and four dozen servos, Roy the Robot commands his audience well. Roy has a torso, arms, and a head, and movement in each part is a complex orchestration that the maker programs via Visual Show Animation software. The software sends serial data to an Arduino, which takes that data and sends it to the individual 16-channel Adafruit servo boards, driving Roy’s 48 servos.

image alt text

A work in progress over a span of about five years, Roy has a few stock routines for his movements and speech. Each routine took about 20 hours to program, says creator Brian Roe. Roy’s build plans are available from Roe’s site for the intrepid makers who want to build their own human robot. Roe also plans to offer a kit for a fully functional Roy arm soon. Eventually, Roe’s goal is to provide kits for the rest of Roy.

1. Drone Racing

All day long, the Aerial Sports League held drone races inside a dedicated track. Three competitors would start at once, with the win going to the first one that successfully completed the track’s circuit and gained the most bonus points. We saw some spectacular wipeouts, and some nail-biters, too.

image alt text

Photo credits: Melissa J. Perenson.