Raleigh, N.C. — Last weekend more than 70 inventors, hobbyists, hackers and tinkerers packed the Kerr Scott Building at the State Fairgrounds for what the volunteer staff organizing the event calls "Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth." The showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness included something for everyone in an interesting mix of left-brain and right-brain creations.
From fighting robots to calligraphy instruction, a massive pumpkin chunkin' trebuchet to spinning yarn. There were musical instruments including handcrafted electric guitars and electronic instruments recycled into new creations. Area students competing in FIRST Robotics competitions demonstrated basketball playing robots and some that played Frisbee with visitors. Kids and adults created unique t-shirts with a weak bleach solution.
As with previous years, 3D printing was a popular topic. Participants showed off 3D printers of many sizes. Some were created from kits others from parts recovered from discarded scanners including a printer created by a group of elementary students as a club project. Robots building themselves is no longer stuff of science fiction. Each printer included parts printed by another 3D printer.
My family looks forward to the event each year now. My wife is a quilter and enjoyed the exhibitors showing off fabric arts, including hand felting, recycling t-shirts into yarn and Durham's Spoonflower, which custom prints fabric and papers with your designs. My 12-year-old son loves the 3D printers and insists that our home is incomplete without one. Several makers compared the current state of 3D printing technology to home computers 30 years ago: quickly expanding beyond hardcore hobbyists creating them from scratch in their garages into more polished and ready to use versions for more casual home users and especially classrooms.
The event wasn't all show and tell; visitors were encouraged to get hands on with activities Tools and instruction were provided in lock picking and soldering. Kids really got creative at the Scrap Exchange booth creating works of art from materials reclaimed from local businesses. The North Carolina LEGO Users Group encouraged kids to make and take brick creations and then turn them into stop motion animations.
The planned launch of a weather balloon by the NC Near Space group did not go quite as planned. A gust of wind grabbed the balloon before its payload of cameras, tracking electronics and a rubber ducky passenger could be securely attached. The balloon was last seen heading north east over the NC State Veterinary School. Without a payload it probably rose quickly 80,000 - 90,000 feet into the stratosphere before it burst and did not cover much ground. Previous balloon launches by the group have traveled 60 - 80 miles.
Durham's Leatherbound Book Works of Durham demonstrated the art of book binding and hand drawn maps. Michael Greer shared his work along with the tools used to create them. Greer kept with the geeky theme of the event displaying a beautifully bound edition of the Book of Genesis, written in binary. 01000011011011110110111101101100
Many make and take activities were free, others charged only for materials used. The goal of the event was to share creations and inspire visitors to create something themselves. I was inspired to create a new custom sticker covering my laptop: Mars rover images. It arrived just days after I created it on Spoonflower's website.
This year's event was the largest yet with over 5,000 in attendance. Organizers acknowledged the crowded aisles in an email to participants and promised improvements in the venue next year.
Tony Rice, who typically blogs for the WRAL Weather Center Blog, is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.