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Lights, Rockets, Robots Take Center Stage at Maker's Faire

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Lights, Rockets, Robots Take Center Stage at Maker's Faire
: SAN MATEO, California -- Maker Faire has a reputation as the premiere destination for people who like to build stuff of all shapes, kinds and scales.
This year's Bay Area iteration of the event didn't disappoint, with tens of thousands of nerds, hackers and crafters descending on the San Mateo fairgrounds outside San Francisco for two days of circuit boards, fire and do-it-yourself demonstrations.
With nearly 500 exhibitors presenting their creations, the Faire can be bewildering, so we sent a crack team from the office down Highway 101 to cherry-pick the 12 coolest projects that we spotted over the weekend.
Left: Members of LUNAR, the Livermore Unit of the National Association of Rocketry, sent rockets flying into the air. They also provided the lighter side of rocket science. In this shot, some of the group's junior members give it a go.
: Bay Area husband-and-wife art team, Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito led the creation of these 30-foot-tall sculptures along with more than 100 collaborators from the Headless Point Artists' Retreat and Labor Camp.
Originally created for Burning Man, the two sculptures, Ecstasy, the feminine sculpture, and Mambatu, the squatting man, guarded the food court at the Maker's Faire.
The oversize figures are part of a larger eight-figure installation called Crude Awakening.
: An enormous skull greeted visitors to the Faire, 9-feet-tall and made out of e-waste. Its eyes and teeth were flat-panel screens.
A projector mounted on the skull played a series of sci-fi classics like The Last Man on Earth. Faire-goers could even text the skull and hear their message read aloud by one of hundreds of synthesized voices. Self-powered, it moved to the theme from the movie Jaws.
Its maker, James Burgett, describes himself as a "self-educated electronics recycler and generally strange guy who gives away computers."
: Acme Muffineering presented their whimsical take on personal transportation, which is essentially an electric vehicle set inside a metal "muffin" tin. The group says the muffins are about 18 times the size of your average muffin, but decidedly less delicious. On the other hand, the muffin cars can speed up to 18 mph, which is beyond the reach of your ordinary morning confection.
: A 17-foot robotic giraffe with webcams in his eyes and special touch-sensitive sensors proved a crowd pleaser over the weekend.
"Hello, my name is Russell," the electric giraffe, aka Rave Raffe, said to a crowd of children.
Russell rewarded kids tickling his sensors by saying, "He. He. He. That tickles," and "That feels nice." The whimsical giraffe is the creation of Russell Pinnington, after whom the robot was named, and Lindz Lawlor, who provides the base for its voice. You might have caught earlier versions of the beast at Burning Man over the last couple of years.
: Husband-and-wife industrial-arts team Dan Das Mann and Karen Cusolito presented their 6-ton, 20-foot-tall sculpture Epiphany to the Maker Faire.
The team considers the fire-spewing figure a manifestation of the current state of an oil-dependent economy.
"She could be fearful or hopeful, worshipping either a tree or oil derrick," Cusolito said, "but either way, she's engulfed in a state of fervor."
Fire technicians Danya Parkinson and Joe Bard of art collective Pyrokinetics were responsible for rigging Epiphany's pyrotechnics: They installed a pilot light in the cardiac region of her 20-foot-tall frame that, when triggered, radiates fire outwards through her hands. The blazes are supposed to mimic a fiery vascular system.
: Any good carnival wouldn't be complete without rides, and at the Maker Faire, a 21st-century experiment in artistry, science and sideshow acts, the Unwheeldy, a two-wheeled cycle, was in high demand.
In the photo, Festival-goers Alex Woodman and Taylor Johnston, both 12, pedal the tandem two-seater.
Bay Area computer software engineer Matthew Blaine, 34, co-designed and built the vehicle, which he called a "giant tandem dicycle." The dicycle's wheels are each 9-feet tall and positioned 5-feet apart from one another, set in a steel frame.
The hardest part about building a monstrous bike? Finding super-size materials. "Most bike shops don't carry giant, 4-foot spokes," Blaine said. "So we made them out of salvaged steel."
: Stanford neuroscience grad student Alan Rorie showed off his hand-built, steam-powered time machine.
Created out of copper, sheets of steel and nitric-acid etched brass plates, the sculpture is hooked to a steam engine with a steam boiler to power its movement. Of course, Rorie's machines don't actually bend the laws of physics, but he credits his creations with helping to pass the time and "keeping [him] sane." His steampunky time machine, or "dihemispheric chronaether agitator," as he calls it, was handcrafted over the last few months.
: If one thing is true about the crowd at Maker Faire, it's that they love robots. If two things are true about Makers, it's that they love robots fighting.
This year, the world's largest robotic fighting league, RoboGames, put on an exhibition called the ComBot Cup. You've undoubtedly seen RoboGames bots in action, so we went backstage to snap some pictures of the competitors retooling their machines after several rounds of combat.
Here, R.D. van Noy and Scott Kincaid worked on their heavyweight robot "S.J." on Saturday.
: This year, the world's largest robotic fighting league, RoboGames, put on an exhibition called the ComBot Cup. You've undoubtedly seen RoboGames bots in action, so we went backstage to snap some pictures of the competitors retooling their machines after several rounds of combat.
Backstage at the RoboGames competition at Maker Faire, Curt Meyers pushes his robot, "Jaws of Death," into position.
: At sunset Saturday, the emphasis of the fair shifted from making to burning. One group, Interpretative Arson, built a "large-scale fire toy that translates anyone's movements into fire."
Functionally, the 2πR project consisted of a series of propane tanks arrayed in a circle around a central platform. The platform was mounted with ground-based sensors that were rigged to torches atop the propane tanks. A person standing on the platform could point in the direction of a tank, thereby covering the sensor, causing the torches in that direction to explode into fire.
The group allowed audience members to get into the central platform and make the fire dance, like this young boy.
: Russell the Giraffe lights up after dark, an indication that he was originally designed as a sideshow for raves. Inside that friendly exterior lurks a 1,000-watt sound system for all your electronic music needs.

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