Last weekend I spent most of my time at an event that I had been waiting for, for a few months. The Toronto Mini Maker Faire had been on the horizon for a while and it was very auspicious that it finally landed when I had also began leading a series of Maker workshops at our lab at York University. The MakeShops are designed to facilitate hands-on design activities for undergraduate (mainly engineering) students using novel technologies such as 3D printing and embedded computing. The Maker Faire provided an excellent opportunity to do a field trip and connect with different hacker/maker communities within Toronto.
Here, I will briefly give an overview of the projects I saw there and also briefly describe a wearable computing project that I did with a friend. This will also provide an overview of the current state of the hacker/maker subculture in Toronto.
A trend that is becoming more and more mainstream is Wearable Computing. In rough terms, these technologies are identified by that they are worn on or around the body and are a specific form of ubiquitous computing. These technologies are currently most well-known in the form of gadgets such as the Google Glass and Galaxy Gear. But they have a surprisingly long history in research and there is a whole conference series dedicated to them.
At the Maker Faire, there were several interesting wearable projects on display. SoMo, is a wearable MIDI controller that is designed to be placed on the body to generate music that corresponds to movement. It consists of a accelerometer, micro controller and wireless modem.
Another project, the Schema Factor, that reminded me of a strangely similar project I had worked on last year, involved a MIDI controller in the form of a glove. The controller was wirelessly connected to Fruity Loops, a sound generator and controller program, and movement through an accelerometer was translated into changes in sound modulation and track volume.
The main difference from my idea (other than minor technical things such as the use of Ableton as the sound software and the actual sewing of the device onto the glove in my case) was that I used RFID readers to identify tracks through RFID tags placed on my body. So each body part (e.g., left hand, right hand, …) corresponded to a track.
Next on was the Social Body Lab, this lab at OCADU is headed by the visionary Kate Hartman, whose visionary art/science projects (most notably Botanicals) have become well-known all over the world. Two main projects were showcased by the lab. Nudgeables is an interface for use in a social setting where two people can let each other know they are thinking of or need to find one another by pressing a button that activates a small vibration motor placed on the other person’s clothing. Vega X Bike lights are wearable wireless bike lights that are easy and cool to wear. This group hosts a wearable meetup series.
I also showcased a wearable project developed with a good friend Natalie. I will write about this project in detail in another post. For now, here’s a brief description of what it was. We designed a hugging hat that turned the wearer into a new cyborg creature, the LuvBug, who thrives on hugs and physical touch. Whenever this new touchy-feely being is hugged it starts playing music and show a light show on its horns that progressively gets more intense and louder. Here’s a picture of Natalie being a LuvBug:
Toronto has several hacker/maker communities that were present during the Faire. These range from the Toronto Tool Library, a social initiative that provides access to power tools, as well as, kitchen utensils to members and community, to the Extreme Knitting and Weaving group at the Textile Museum of Canada.
Other more traditional hacker/maker groups include Site3 coLaboratory, an art and technology collective that bring together their skills to create innovative projects (one of their main focus seems to be working with fire, something that is highly celebrated in Burning Man where they usually have a strong presence at). They have an open-house on Thursday evenings. hacklab is also of note for being Toronto’s hacker collective (it is located in Kensington Market and has an open-house night on Tuesdays).
My favourite Toronto maker community is Maker Kids. This is a non-porfit children making organization that has after-school programs and community activities for children. It’s headed by Andy Forest whom I met last year at TedX Toronto. I volunteered for them last year and gave a short presentation on tangible design for their participants. I have been inspired greatly by Andy and his team. At the Faire, they had several tables and programs but one that was a lot of fun to check out was a toy-hacking station where children cut apart dolls and toys and reassembled them into new creatures. Watching children reassemble these toys, I felt I was seeing a new generation of geneticists being inspired!
There were some unusual groups there too: The Open Organization of Lock Pickers, had setup a lock picking village where they taught everyone how to pick locks!
There was a considerable presence of 3D Printing vendors, enthusiasts and manufacturers at the Faire. Since 3D printing is a big topic that I will probably go into more detail elsewhere, I will not elaborate on it here. Two projects seemed unusual to me.
Students from the University of Waterloo were showcasing a 3D chocolate printer (but no samples).
And there was a gentleman who would 3D scan your head if requested! I did this and am waiting to get a 3D model in my email to play with!
Besides the groups that I mentioned already, there were a number of groups that are hard to categorize. These ones I describe briefly in this section.
Le Petite Print Shop, a steam-punk project from Austria, featured a 100 year old type writer that you could use to tweet:
The Arduino-Powered Foosball Scoreboard, automatically displayed your score as you played foosball:
The CodeShield is a teaching tool that magnifies the size of a microcontroller and connects it to a regular version so that students can see better what each socket and components does:
Ice Volcano created (surprisingly smooth and and tasty) instant ice cream from liquid nitrogen and fun ingredients (frozen marshmallows anyone?):
And finally, R2D2 and the cardboard armour man, who walked around the Faire, making everyone smile and take pictures!