Makerfaire Season 2015

So what makes a good Makerfaire exhibit?

After visiting Makerfaires, observing what is popular and exhibiting at a few I have my view of what is good:

  • Something people can touch, even if it is just a circuit board, marked please pick me up, to a full on tactile experience.
  • Something that makes a mess visually is more attractive and sparks curiosity
  • Animated, projects that have moving parts tend to be more popular than static, movement attracts the human eye.
  • Accessible to all ages, Makerfaire attracts whole families often spanning three generations walking around the faire together. If possible appeal at different levels to keep the young kids busy while the older “kids” talk tech.
  • Crafty, this ties into points one and two above, but being able to stop the pace from table to table with a craft activity is welcomed by many
  • Self explanatory and quick to absorb, especially at the larger fairs if you can make the activity or show short this is better as it allows more people to be “processed”, experience and less frustrated that they would have liked a go but never got a chance as it was always busy.
  • Something for the lurkers, if you implement most of the other points you will also tackle this, some people simply like to stand at the back to watch and listen to everyone else experiencing it, or perhaps the rest of the family have to watch as the young/old kids have a go.
  • Remember you will get a crowd by lifting the lid off a project and showing the guts is definitely appreciated by the makerfaire crowd.

So with all the above in mind it was time to draft this year’s plan.

This year I was inspired the evening after last year’s faire with two ideas. Thus I am sorted for the next  two years. Luckily the ideas both share a core set of technology, so my expenditure should last a couple of years too.

Initial Idea

The idea is to have a Pokemon Challenge – run to a bucket, collect the required Pokemon bring it back in two “lanes” against the clock.


RFIDModuleI have been researching RFID chips and prototyped using the RC522 MIFARE receiver on the Netduino by porting some Arduino code and mixing it with code for another RFID receiver. I also have receipt printers, LCD displays, LED displays, label printers and barcode scanners at my disposal from previous faires &  it makes sense to reuse if possible, in order to get the best return on the money I’ve already spent for previous faires.

Refining the idea

FrogAndModuleSo after many week thinking about things and casual internet and retail research, the first disappointment happened. In years gone by, arcade claw grab machines used to have Pokemon as prizes, I  had assumed there would  be lots on ebay for little money or a craw trade vendor who would sell me a sack load at very little cost. Sadly Pokemon are still a sought after commodity and prices are £7-10 each for the 7inch toys, and claw machines traders no longer sell them, and the toys they do sell are suprisingly expensive (remember that next time you win one, also think that means for arcades to win, there  must be little chance  of wining one!).

I ordered some RFID key fobs from China, they are cheap in bulk, and are small enough to slip under the “skin” of plush toys, and then sew the toy back up. We then discovered a local shop selling a variety of 7 inch animals for £2 each, much better price, so we bought two of each. The idea is to add a competitive element to the experience and have two people at a time trying to do the challenge first, this  is why the cost of the plush toys is critical. The aim by the faire is to have at least fifteen toys in each of the two sides.

This means changing the nature of the idea a little, although it makes it less geeky (“can you catch them all” goes out the window), it probably makes it easier to ask someone to find a Zebra  to find a Tepig pokemon. Hence over the course of two weeks the idea has refined to the following:

Maker Ranger

You are a wildlife ranger, tasked with retrieving the animals from the wild that we for conservation purposes have previously RFID tagged. You will be given a list of animals to find and check the health of. You must do this as fast as you can to prove that you are a top ranger.

When the clock starts, you must find, in order, each of the requested animals, putting them in our holding pen where you must check it’s health. Once all the animals have been checked, you will receive your official Maker Ranger sticker to prove to everyone you are now qualified. Your badge will contain your time and a unique number, to allow you to check after the faire how you did against  everyone else who entered that day.image

To implement the above I intend to use a Netduino board to drive the competition (timing/RFID reading/recording results/display driver), Raspberry PI to support the Netduino. Thermal label printer to print individual “winner” stickers. There will be two baskets of animals to rummage through to find the requested animals and a holding pen on the table into which each animal must be placed. In front of each pen will be an industrial mushroom stop button that must be pressed to “check the health”, the health will be “ok” or “wrong animal, try again” as responses to this action.

Themed on a safari/ nature reserve theme, chance to dress up as a ranger too! The age range thing should be ok as I can cajole people into taking part, and the completive nature should appeal to old and young.