NEW YORK—The World Maker Faire New York was as much a way for tinkerers to show off their latest creations as it was a place for inventors to work on their projects with others. There was a common mind around the outdoor booths at the annual fair, held at the New York Hall of Science in Queens on Sept. 29 and 30, that innovation is a community effort.
Drones were a common sight at the event, and you could find the automated robots flying on gyrocopters, laying on six-wheel beds ideal for off-roading, and being shown off as working concepts for tomorrow’s cars.
But the star of the show wasn’t an eight-legged robot or a person twiddling with wires at a table. The star of the show was Arduino, an open source platform created by the do-it-yourself community to create interactive electronic devices. It was behind most of the robotic hulls, beneath the glass of the Linux tablets, and within the face-detection tools of the paintball sentry guns. Arduino was the lifeblood of the machines.
“Open source is the future,” said Patrick Willutt from ArcBotics, who stood behind a booth showing off the company’s build-it-yourself hexypod robots.
Open source is based in a philosophy that promoting the free distribution of hardware and software and allowing the community to freely add to the projects helps innovation.
Many of the inventors at the Makers Faire had products for sale, but they also give out the designs to the open source community. The belief is that those with the time and skill can build them on their own, but most people may still purchase the systems to save time. Keeping the designs open source also means that people can enhance and alter the products freely.
A few of the ArcBotics robots were displayed on a table, each bot with two large sensors that resembled eyes, and six legs. Willutt pointed to the bots and said, “We love the fact that you can go and take these designs, improve on them, and make something better than this. That’s the reason why ArcBotics has gone so far—it’s because of open source.”
Willutt said that while he and his team came to the event for promotion, “the Maker Faire is something you will never find anywhere else. It’s a huge open source community.”
“The majority of the projects here are open source,” he said. “They encourage sharing ideas and communication of projects, integration, and working together. These are the values that we really like to stand by.”
At a table nearby, Michael Margolis, author of “Arduino Cookbook,” stood behind a stack of books with a couple small robots nearby. Margolis is a contributor to the Arduino project and part of its code was contributed by him.
He said that while Arduino is technically just a project that combines open source hardware and software, “Arduino is also about community.” Many of its experienced users chip in to help newcomers, and answer questions on the project’s online forums.
It was this community that inspired Margolis to write his book. He was on the Arduino forums “and a lot of people were asking questions and were struggling to find information on the Internet.” He said the book was meant to bring his own knowledge and that others involved with the project into one place.
“The robot,” he said, referring to the robots that rested on a table to his left, “is showing something interesting that uses them.”
Margolis said he started using Arduino as a hobby. He builds robot airplanes and was looking for a way to program them. After fiddling with some nonopen source hardware, he came across Arduino and “to my surprise, many techniques, which I needed to get started were already available, and freely available and supported,” he said.
“I used Arduino in some of my own projects and then got hooked because not only could I build things, like with my hobby with robot airplanes, but I could build all kinds of stuff around the house and useful stuff for architects and designers,” he said.
Not all the projects were just for fun though. There were many projects intended to help the environment or help people facing health issues. One of these projects was the Pulse Sensor.
There was a small booth for the Pulse Sensor, and it could easily be found by the sound of faint beeping and the pulsing glow of small white orbs.
A few of the Pulse Sensors were laid on a table. Each one had a small green light fixed in a small chip that rests on your fingertip. A light velcro band holds it in place. A short wire leads from the light to a small white dome with a computer chip beneath it. When your heart beats, the white dome lights up and emits a quiet beep, and works as an interactive way of watching your heartbeat.
Yury Gitman teaches at the Parsons New School for Design. He said he and his students built the Pulse Sensor because the students wanted to work on projects that incorporated the user’s heart rate.
“Basically what’s on here is a green light and a light sensor,” Gitman said. “The green light shoots light into your finger and the light sensor looks for how much comes back. When blood is present, less light comes back.”
The project, he said, is based on a patent that expired about 20 years ago. “There’s documentation online on how to build it, but they’re tricky to build, so we built it for ourselves and we saw there’s a need for it,” he said.
They also built on the old patent, and fitted it with an Arduino system. “We innovated new things that were never done before, but our starting point was the public domain stuff,” he said. “We just believe in the open source hardware movement.”
Gitman said that he came to the event wanting to demonstrate the heartbeat sensor he and his students built, “but what I really love about the show is that it actually gets kids into science and technology.”
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