Tampa's Mini Maker Faire to bring out the Edison in everyone

Tampa's first Maker Faire aims to bring out the Edison in everyone
Published March 29 2012
Updated March 29 2012

Think it and you can build it.

That's the spirit of the Maker Faire, gatherings of inventors, tech whizzes, artists and even hackers.

The science fair-meets-carnival began in San Francisco in 2006 and finally makes it way to Tampa on Saturday. The Tampa Bay Mini Maker Faire will bring together local makers showcasing their robots, do-it-yourself projects and crafts.

"This is an opportunity to help people think of themselves as producers and creators,'' said event organizer Terri Willingham, president of the Tampa-based nonprofit Learning is for Everyone. "We tend to be passive consumers of entertainment and products, but there are a lot of things we can do and make.''

About 20 community and commercial makers plan to exhibit their creations, from the University of South Florida's Robotics Interest Group to Nancy Tedeschi, inventor of the SnapIt Screw for eyeglasses. Marine scientist Erica Moulton will demonstrate underwater remotely controlled vehicles.

"If you're a science geek like me, it's nirvana,'' she said. "I want people to walk away saying, 'I know I can do that.' ''

Robots will be the star attractions and come in all sizes and shapes, motorized and not. Sarah Thee Campagna of St. Petersburg will have her CyberCraft Robots, artistic sculptures of robots and ray guns made from old car parts, tools and lawn mowers.

Bill Shaw is bringing the Butler Bot. Shaw, who teaches afterschool robotics programs in Hillsborough County, built the robot with a few students and their dads using Legos and an Xbox Kinect controller, which responds to hand gestures. It does their legwork: It opens a mini fridge and grabs a pizza box and beverage.

Shaw has been following Maker Faires for years but never attended one. He hopes uniting local makers will lead to the formation of a "maker space,'' where inventors go to make things and share ideas and equipment.

Make magazine developed the Maker Faire to celebrate science, engineering, arts and the do-it-yourself mindset. It organizes large, regional faires nationwide and helps communities produce independent mini events. Magazine officials will bring their Maker Shed to Tampa with kits, tools and shirts for makers and crafters.

Aside from robots and gadgets, Tampa's mini faire will have a toy-making workshop, a hip hop dance class and food trucks selling inventive culinary fare. Elizabeth Baker will create her electronic Suitcases of Sound. Nicodemus Brothers, a 18-year-old student at King High School, will show off the school's electric race car.

Members of the Tampa Bay Inventors Council will talk about how their ideas evolved from sketches, to prototype to marketable product. They'll also walk people through the process of filing a patent. Putting tools into people's hands helps small ideas become huge, said council president Wayne Rasanen.

Rasanen, who attended a mini Maker Faire in Sarasota, believes the event can promote Tampa Bay's tech culture and spark interest in a "Silicon Highway'' along Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando.

"Too many people are content to sit inside, surf the Internet and read books about the world,'' he said. "These are people who have an appreciation for actually going out in the world and doing stuff.''