Lafayette's MakerFest: The ultimate DYI session
By Lou Fancher
At a 21st century library, book learning is only the beginning.
Picking up the mantle of modernism, MakerFest 2015 at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center July 25 will play host to a robot that solves a Rubik's cube with fewer than 30 moves and under two minutes, a dinosaur able to maneuver around obstacles, demonstrations of 3D printing, DIY instruments, candy sushi- and slime-making, knitting, and more.
The free, all-ages event celebrates a second anniversary after a stunning debut in 2014 that had approximately 300 people enjoying dozens of activities from selected presenters.
"We completely underestimated the amount of people in the community who were interested," said Library Assistant Orlando Guzman. "From the feedback we got, they were grateful that the library hosted it because it wasn't like other maker events where there's admission charged, and it's more about getting a person's money."
Instead, MakerFest is all about people like Guzman, who grew up building model muscle cars, hot rods and classic cars of the 30s, 40s and 50s. "I'd detail them with paint, miniature engine components, murals on the hoods," he said.
His daughter's interest in science and technology led to tie-dye experiments, home chemistry sets that had them "blowing up volcanoes in the house" and carpentry projects. He said last year's MakerFest attracted "a great mix of girls, moms, older people, boys and men. Entire families came. It wasn't kids pulling parents along; the moms and dads were engaged, too."
Guzman predicts Fremont resident Saurabh Marain will be a big hit as a presenter. The 14-year-old is a master at solving Rubik's cube, able to study the jumbled color configurations, don a blindfold and solve the puzzle in under two minutes. Not entirely satisfied with his mere-mortal abilities, he built the Rubik Cube Solver V2. The robotic device has button-push activation, wheels pivot 90 degrees to create a stable base and an algorithm Marain developed for the robot to accomplish its purpose.
"I'll show the Rubik's robot and a Lego T-Rex dinosaur that walks on two legs and wags its tail. If it encounters an obstacle, an IR sensor detects the it and can turn the dinosaur," Marain said. "I also have a 3D printer, a bot I modified with parts like a custom extruder. It's two times faster than the older printer I built."
Marain said a YouTube video propelled him into Rubik's action, mostly because when he tried following the instructions he failed to solve the cube. Finding a detailed, online webpage for beginners, he learned the drills and practiced until it was easy. "Then I thought, if I could do it, a robot could do it."
Actually, the seed of curiosity germinated years before, when Marain began disassembling hand-cranked torches and discovered the wonders of motors geared for increased torque and the mysterious, complicated, internal mechanics of stepper motors.
"In third grade I made a computer that ran Linux," he said. "I got materials from Fry's. It's my favorite store; I go there twice a week to look at things."
Guzman said that if there's a common denominator to maker folk, it's creative curiosity. "A maker person is a problem-solver willing to think outside of tradition or to use whatever materials are at hand. The passionate makers pass that along to kids by simply asking, 'How do I make that work? How can I make that with things that I have?' "
If you ask Marain what he wants to be when he's an adult, he'll tell you he wants to be a hardware engineer. Ask Marain about world problems he'd most want to solve, he's equally certain and quick to answer.
"I'd like to solve the fact that 1.3 billion people don't have access to electricity. I want to make a generator that's cheap so people can power a USB hub or have a light. And people who don't have clean water ... a creative filter that's cheap would help them to afford water."
And then, invited to dream a little, he said, 'Building arm prosthetics and making a 3D printer that prints them cheaply, but perfectly, would be great."