Down to a science
Reno Mini Maker Faire brings together artists and techies
What do knitting a pair of socks, playing eerie melodies on a theremin, and building a robot from scrap materials have in common? They’re all activities you can expect to see at this year’s Reno Mini Maker Faire. It’s the local version of the original Maker Faire, established by MAKE Magazine in 2006 and held in San Mateo, California.
“It’s a celebration of the maker movement,” said event organizer Tara Radniecki. “It’s a place where people show what they are making and share what they are learning. Makers range from tech enthusiasts to crafters to homesteaders to scientists to garage tinkerers. They are of all ages and backgrounds. The aim of Maker Faire is to entertain, inform, connect and grow this community in Northern Nevada.”Hands on
This is Reno’s fourth Mini Maker Faire. Attendees can expect a mix of art, technology and projects based around enviromental sustainability such as solar ovens and art made from recycled materials. The faire emphasizes learning, so local organizations provide opportunities to partake in hands-on projects or watch demonstrations on musical instruments, virtual reality, rocket building, soldering and coding, just to name a few.
“This year we will also be hosting some Nevada FIRST Robotics teams, several local startups, including Breadware, and activity booths from local makerspaces, including Bridgewire and DeLaMare Science & Engineering Library,” Radniecki said.
She is an engineering librarian at the University of Nevada, Reno’s DeLaMare Library, which has its own makerspace, providing electronics kits, tools and software for students and members of the community. Historically, the library has hosted maker events, including Microsoft’s yearly hackathon and the NASA Space Apps Challenge, in which participants develop projects to solve questions posed by NASA.
Library director Tod Colegrove travels internationally to share the experiences of the library with others in the profession, and what was once a quiet, uninhabited building in the middle of UNR’s campus is now frequently bustling with tinkering students from all disciplines.
“All humans are makers by our very nature,” said Radniecki. “We are constantly learning new skills and knowledge and using them to make, fix and solve things. We fix our own cars, knit our own sweaters, build our own robots, grow our own food, and make beautiful art with our own hands.”
She quoted former Mythbusters host Adam Savage, who said, “Humans do two things that make us unique from all other animals: we use tools, and we tell stories. And when you make something, you’re doing both at once.”
“And I believe the stories he is talking about don’t have to be the clear-cut type you read in a book, but rather the story of us,” said Radniecki. “The story of who we are, what we learned, and how we choose to spend our time creating and making.”
For decades, a homegrown art movement has distinguished Reno from other similarly sized cities. In the past few years, a more tech-focused community has arisen.
“Reno has an exciting and vibrant maker culture, including tech startups, Burning Man artists, researchers in the university’s labs, and everything in between,” said Radniecki. She thinks it’s important that cities acknowledge and support makers. She also said that maker cultures support the economic health of communities.
“While making can certainly be something we do just for ourselves, it also has the potential to turn into a viable business,” she said. “We have seen people who initially just set out to make something for themselves realize that the problem they are solving is experienced by others. Local makers-turned-entrepreneurs of note include Roger Floren, who runs Tahoe Wood Maps—a business that makes laser-cut art pieces of Lake Tahoe and other regions—and underwear subscription service Panty Drop, started after a Startup Weekend Reno event.Bread winners
This mix of creativity and business is what drew Breadware, a new hardware company, to Reno in March. Breadware was founded in Seattle, then moved to Santa Barbara, before finding a home in Northern Nevada. Breadware’s business is twofold—they provide development software to help companies develop their own custom hardware, and they also create hardware kits that makers can use in conjunction with microcontrollers such as Arduino. This type of technology is part of the “Internet of Things” (IoT) world, in which different devices can all speak to one another using a central language.
“Oftentimes when I meet people out in the real world, they don’t even know what IoT stands for,” said Anela deLaveaga, Breadware’s creative director. “Honestly, it’s becoming such a big part of what culture is going to be dictated by. Cities are adopting IoT through smart cities initiatives.”
“Smart city” projects are intended to make cities more sustainable and automated —for example, creating street lights that turn off to conserve energy when no one is around. IoT devices can measure things like light pollution and air quality, and then trigger other devices to react to that data. According to a 2015 Forbes report, more than $400 billion will be spent on smart city initiatives by 2020.
The maker movement has a head start on smart cities, since products like Breadware allow anyone to create IoT projects for their homes and cities.
According to Daniel Price, Breadware’s CEO, the lower cost of running a business in Nevada was a selling point, but the maker mentality of its inhabitants was the real draw. He cited Reno’s “entrepreneurial vigor” and said, “It’s small enough that you can insert yourself into it and make a splash.”
Price and deLaveaga cite other local maker companies, such as Vital Systems and Filament, as another reason to move to town. In April, Filament closed a funding round of $15 million venture financing. There’s money to be made in the maker world, but it requires a dedicated community to support such projects.
“I like how the Reno community in itself is really good at combining the art and the tech,” said deLaveaga. “It’s not just, you know, painting art, it’s like really cool interactive statues and sculptures.”
The maker movement thrives on this balance between creativity and logic. Breadware conducted focus groups with UNR students in social sciences and creative writing, and the students were quickly able to create their own cloud-based applications. The opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration are endless, said Price.
This is the foundation of Maker Faire—making these experiences widely accessible, exercising values such as diversity and inclusiveness.
“We see it at the Generator, a free space where you’ll find everyone from Burning Man artists working on large-scale projects to retirees using the wood shop for small projects for their homes,” said Radniecki.
“Developing and encouraging a maker culture in Northern Nevada brings people together from all backgrounds, ages and experiences to share knowledge and skills in a safe and supportive community,” she said.