Making Tracks to the 2013 NYC Maker Faire

At the end of September I had the opportunity to attend the 2013 NYC Maker Faire in Queens, NY. This two-day event had more than 70,000 visitors. The Faire was held on the grounds of the 1964 Worlds Fair, in the shadow of Citifield and Arthur Ashe Stadiums.

The Maker phenomenon has been growing exponentially over the last few years. At the heart of the Maker movement is the concept that individuals own the ability to make the stuff they need or want. It is somewhat of a counter-culture movement, running contrary to the concept of large scale manufacturing, where sophisticated industrialized processes produce the items we buy (and where many have been moved offshore with the finished goods imported back into the country). It could be referred to as democratized manufacturing.

The Maker movement is comprised of people focused on taking back control of manufacturing for certain items. Additionally, there is resurgence in the idea of pride-of-craft and quality in manufacturing. Artistic aspects of the creative process are emphasized by those engaged in making stuff. Innovation and art play a big part, as the projects are very disparate and unique. (For example, I saw high school students who had networked a series of TI-84+ calculators and used them to access the web and had enabled the calculators to play music on a cannibalized PC disk drive. Across from them was a tent where craftspeople demonstrated making chainmail clothing!)

So, what might make LIDAR News readers interested in this movement? Scanning, replication and serious innovation come to mind. Some of the earliest adopters of 3D printing were Makers. 3D printing has allowed individuals to house a manufacturing plant in their garage or workshop. They can create precise, reasonable quality products from very sophisticated designs in an easy (albeit slow) process. At the Faire, there were dozens and dozens of vendors offering either the 3D printers themselves or 3D printing services. In fact, there was an entire 3D printing village under several massive tents. [The 3D printing device market is anticipated to parallel the growth rate and volume of the 3D scanning market as described in this article:]

It is only logical that those seeking to replicate parts, objects or art might turn to scanning to create digital 3D content to print. At the Maker faire, there were many wide ranging presentations on the topic of scanning. Flexiscale, a UK firm, uses industrial laser scanning to create 3D printed models of old locomotives and rolling stock. On the DIY side, an interesting character called the Great Fredini from Coney Island presented a DIY scanner he uses to create statues of paying customers.

As for vendors of scanning equipment, there was only the Makerbot Digitizer 3D Scanner and a Trimble VX Spatial Station unit on display (at least in my partial exposure to the venue). I was somewhat disappointed. While the Trimble VX does scan, it is basically a total station on steroids. It is highly accurate and very capable, but it captures a slight 15points-per-second when in scan mode. It would have been really fun had Trimble brought the TX5 or TX8 with megahertz data collection capability.

Similarly, I would have liked to have seen more of the imaging sensors that are used by BIM service providers and metrology/engineering firms. It seems to me that there is a distinct gap between the scanning capabilities available in the marketplace and the Makers knowledge or ability to access them. There seems to be a role for the LIDAR scanning systems to assist Makers, although perhaps the cost is too great at this time

Trimble had a large vendor set-up which included a pre-fab building constructed from CNC cut plywood based on an open source Sketchup design (WikiHouse). Trimble now owns Sketchup (which they acquired from Google several years ago) and it had a heavy presence with a slew of workstations for both young and old to try their hands at designing in Sketchup. While hundreds of people wandered in an out of the display, the Trimble representative was wandering around with a RTK pole and target (for the VX Spatial station) and was demonstrating its capabilities by scanning the venue, statues and artwork on the fairgrounds.

There is a growing user community comprised of non-professionals, employing 3D manipulation software (1-2-3D Catch by Autodesk), 3D scanning (MakerBot Makerbot is now owned by Stratasys, a major manufacturer of 3D printers) and 3D printing (too numerous to name) that were previously strictly the purview of professionals. (Michael Raphael covered this topic very well in then March 2013 LIDAR News).

I wonder what the future holds where kids in 2nd grade are designing objects and printing in 3D and where they are scanning items and replicating them. I would venture to say that it bodes well for our community in that we will find a ready acceptance of the methods and products offered.

From a life-sized Mousetrap Game set-up to DIY robotics workshops, the Maker Faire offered an astounding array of eye-candy for anyone interested in forward-looking aspects of engineering, science, technology, art, hobbies and craftsmanship.

It was a great day and unfortunately I only saw about 1/2 of the venue. I was pleased to see the depth and breadth of innovation taking place. The many young people I saw engaged in experimentation and pursuit of the curious inspired me. Perhaps it indicates the future is bright when the next generation is so willing to explore with abandon in their own garages and on their kitchen tables.