Inspiration overload

The spirit of invention at Maker Faire Detroit

Jul 25, 2012 at 12:00 am

Maker Faire runs from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. July 28-29, at the Henry Ford in Dearborn (20900 Oakwood Blvd.); one-day adult tickets are $13 and up; various packages available;

Prepare yourself for robots, fire-spitting metallic contraptions, flying machines, exploding coke bottles — all sorts of creations to fuel the imagination. It's the third annual Maker Faire Detroit, an unhinged science fair for the creatively insane. The two-day event will feature more than 400 visionaries, techies, inventors, entrepreneurs and other creatively restless makers who are taking new approaches to science, art and engineering. This all makes for a stunning environment — picture Doc Brown's garage from Back to the Future (minus the DeLorean) with another two-and-a-half decades' worth of technological resources at work.

With its mission "to entertain, inform, connect and inspire," it provides an opportunity to interact with the creators and engage in hands-on workshops and demonstrations. And these creators aren't corporate spokesmen or genius Ivy Leaguers; from all ages, backgrounds and environments, they're characterized by an innovative spirit and an eagerness to pass the bug along, in hopes of inspiring still more basement labs and backyard workshops. It's all organized by the folks from MAKE magazine, a DIY quarterly devoted to uniting and inspiring the growing community of resourceful geeks and wannabe geeks alike. These days, finding your inner-geek may be the coolest thing you can do.

Among the wide range of exhibitions and demonstrations are a few particularly massive ones, including the Life-Size Mouse Trap, literally an overwhelming re-creation of the classic Rube Goldberg-like board game — only it ends with a seven-ton safe crashing down upon a Chevy minivan. The whole setup weighs 50,000 pounds and takes five days to assemble and two to take down. There's also AudioBody, a high-tech comedy show, and the Lego Brick Challenge Game Show. We love Legos, so we called up the game show creator, Nick Britsky, to see what this thing was all about.

"I've always been passionate about Lego, probably since I've been 6 or 7," says Britsky, who has a 400-square-foot Lego studio in his Royal Oak basement. "I wanted to share with people that not only can you build models out of Lego, but you can do so much more with it. So taking that and extrapolating it into a game show really shows the flexibility of the toy — you can do anything with it."

The game pits two teams of two against each other in a double-dare style competition involving Lego-based questions and Lego-building tasks, all behind giant Lego-brick podiums, where contestants can win gift certificates for Lego sets. If it sounds like a Lego-lover's dream-come-true, that's because it is.

There'll be many other fascinating toys at Maker Faire, but two from Detroit-based artist and inventor Ryan Doyle are absolute beasts. The first is a 20-foot-tall water fountain that shoots a violent stream of red, blue and green (dyed) water into the air, which Doyle plans to turn into a fire fountain immediately following the event. It'll be positioned outside with the surrounding area marked-off for attendees who want to get splashed. They can also have a hand in operating the fountain.

"People have definitely made mini-controlled water fountains before," Doyle says, "but no one's ever made one a flamethrower that could produce flames of any color." Well, we definitely haven't seen one.

Doyle's other device is a gasifier, which turns wood into a fuel source. It'll basically look like a suburban-style truck with a machine attachment that performs combustion of the wood and creates hydrogen and carbon monoxide to replace gasoline. (Doyle will be present to offer a more detailed explanation).

"The main reason I'm doing it is to show that there are other experimental options for fuels," says Doyle, who explains that more than a million cars were run off gasifiers during the petroleum shortages of World War II — but the process of operating these machines was labor-intensive and therefore pretty much abandoned. His truck showcases a more automated, turnkey method, certainly more appealing to us environmentally conscious drivers in the 21st century.

Of the big event itself, Doyle says, "It's not just a fair here in Detroit. It's become this sort of movement in the states to help redevelop manufacturing. ... So this one thing in Detroit is just a part of a bigger thing that is happening across the country." 

Paul Kitti is a Metro Times intern. Send comnments to [email protected].