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What's on Tap

What's on Tap

Mission Control desks and a home-grown hand among projects at Maker Faire

Posted June 7
Updated June 9

— Makers armed with everything from robots to sewing machines shared their inventions and creations at the fifth annual Maker Faire North Carolina Saturday at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh. Nearly 100 artists and engineers packed the Expo Center which echoed with cries of “Wow! That’s cool!”

Visitors crowded around tables to learn how to solder and pick locks. Robot hockey was also a popular hands-on activity with two-minute long games going on throughout the day.

Students from North Carolina State University invited guests to stand on a rotating turntable for a full-body scan which would produce a figurine from a 3D printer across the aisle. Librarians from NC State’s James B. Hunt Jr. Library demonstrated 3D printing technology available to students. Students also demonstrated how they turned sound into 3D printed strips that can be read back into the computer to produce audio.

“With three dimensions to work with, we can further improve the quality of the audio by varying the height of printed code, maybe even print vinyl records straight from audio files,” said team member Corey Meade.

NC Nearspace Research released a balloon outside the Expo Center – their 27th balloon experiment. They pack a payload of cameras and a GPS unit which transmits the balloons location as it flies. Their new Chloroprene balloon performed well, reaching over 69,000 feet before bursting and bring the payload down gently via parachute to a backyard near Clayton. The chase team returned with the payload shortly before the event ended.

Karen James, of Cary, shared a 3D printed artificial hand that she and other volunteers at Enabling The Future are creating for her son. “He’s had several artificial limbs made for him, but kids grow so fast," she said. "This simple hand allows the wearer to grasp objects and can be printed at home for about $50 worth of materials in a couple of hours. Prosthetics can cost thousands.” 

Jeff Highsmith, who describes himself as a tinkerer extraordinaire, built {{a href="external_link-13710861"}}a desk for his son’s room inspired by a recent family trip to the Kennedy Space Center. The desk lifts up to reveal an array of switches, dials and indicators powered by Arduino and Raspberry Pi microcontrollers which also play back sounds from NASA missions.

There is a lot for his son to just fiddle with but Highsmith programmed in some problems for his son to solve based on historic missions. Just like the Apollo 12 mission that was struck by lightning shortly after takeoff, the switched labeled “SCE” must be moved to the auxiliary position to silence the alarm. Perform a “cryo-stir” like the Apollo 13 astronauts did, and you’ll hear an explosion followed by the master alarm. Highsmith also showed off a capsule he was working on. Every flight controller needs a spacecraft.

The show isn’t all 3D printing and computers. Visitors created woven bracelets using a loom created from popsicle sticks. The Tri-Tatters Guild shared their lace-making skills, and Durham-based Spoonflower showed the custom-printed fabrics and wallpapers created by their customers.  The Farmery shared their design for a grocery store and café which grows its own produce on the walls. Young visitors learned how to sew with machines and guidance from software engineer and quilt artist Susan Owenby.

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