What do cardboard, soldering irons and a giant metallic fire-breathing dragon appropriately named Heavy Meta have in common? Not much really, but they all find themselves right at home at the Rochester Maker Faire.
Going into its fifth year, the Maker Faire is part carnival, part science fair and a celebration of all things DIY to be hosted at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center on Nov. 16-17. The Maker Faire revolves around makers, people using outside the box ideas and concepts to build a litany of different things, from circuit boards and electronics to furniture and sculptures, all with an emphasis on education. Maker Faire itself is a global organization, started in 2006 by Make: Magazine, with events from San Diego to Beijing, with the Rochester event a passion project of Dan Schneiderman, an outreach specialist at RIT K-12 University Center, co-chair of Rochester Maker Faire and a devotee of tech, DIY and the open source movement.
Schneiderman was also a 2017 recipient of a Digital Rochester Greater Rochester Excellence and Achievement in Technology (GREAT) Award in the emerging tech leader category.
“We are going to have everything from LEGOs to hands on weaving to robotics, we’re looking to try and drive robots around, we’re going to have a whole agriculture area where you can actually try your hands on some cooking stuff,” Schneiderman said. “But we’re also going to have some crazier stuff, for example, we’ll have the beginning of a half-scale model of the lunar lander that someone is building here in Rochester.”
The Maker Faire organization classifies it’s global events as flagship for the largest and original events, featured for larger events that aren’t flagships, mini and school. This year is the first year that Rochester has grown largest enough to be a “featured” Faire. For scope, the first Maker Faire in Rochester had about 90 exhibits with 1,500 attendees. Last year’s event saw 130 exhibits with between 3,500 and 4,000 attendees.
The non-profit The New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education (NYSCATE) serves as the parent organization to the event, with NextCorps, the Rochester Museum and Science Center and RIT among the sponsors.
“We’ve kind of built up more partnerships, we’ve been talking with the people over at Datto, as we know, the people over there love to make and build, Austin McChord is a maker himself outside of all of the professional stuff he does,” Schneiderman said. “He likes playing with motors and trying to build robots.”
Robots and the fire-breathing dragon, which spewed flames over the Main Street sidewalk for the first time last year, are just parts of a larger ambition of Schneiderman. That is, to get people of all ages to build something, and that all starts with making the seemingly unapproachable, nerdy sides of building accessible.
“One of the things we’ve done is is we’ve had entire areas just to let kids take things apart,” Schneiderman said. “As much as making things is part of the maker world, taking things apart is part of the maker world, because you’re curious. It’s innate curiosity, it’s something we’re all born with, and we just really encourage it.”
That encouragement is important to Schneiderman. He believes everyone has some kind of hidden passion that they may never explore without the right avenue. Maker Faire could be the impetus for them to tap into their innate curiosity, and explore the resources Rochester has for makers. Rochester currently has a makerspace on St. Paul, and RIT is home to the The Construct, a high-tech playground open to students, faculty and alumni.
“It is changing, we’re starting to see people looking for ideas online, with websites like Instructables saying ‘hey, here’s some of the lessons you need to learn along the way,'” Schneiderman said. “But to go out and actually go to the community spaces like the Rochester Makerspace, that’s a great resource, but not that many people know about it.”
As part of that effort to inspire makers, Schneiderman played a key role in bringing the Awesome Foundation to Rochester. The Awesome Foundation is an international organization which provides $1,000 microloans to artists, scientists, tech folk and other builders to help them complete projects to improve their community, or simply, make it more awesome. Rochester’s Awesome Foundation will donate $1,000 to a project every two months, with the first project being the Backyard Lunar Lander, the aforementioned half-scale model of the lunar lander built by engineer Barry Nobles to honor the 50th anniversary of the moon landing on July 20, 2019.
“That’s awesome, and the fact that it’s going to go around Rochester, that he’ll be taking that $1,000 to make it mobile, building it up,” Schneiderman said. “I’ve seen his plans, he’s actually bringing a full-scale one-dimensional model to the Maker Faire this year, and he’s already starting to build out the full three-dimensional one. I just can not wait to see this, that’s going to be something to celebrate, something to bring to festivals, bring to schools and get people interested in STEM.”
Tickets for the Rochester Maker Faire are $9 for individuals, $30 for family passes, which include up to two adults and three children, and $100 for sponsor tickets, which includes admission for up to 10 people and a listing as a sponsor.e