Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Undying Desire to Make

This past weekend, I had the wonderful experience of running four robot making workshops at Maker Faire NY. I've organized the Let's Make Robots presence at Maker Faire for the past two years. Last year, I was able to sit down with a small handful of kids and make a very simple robot. This year, I wanted to do a lot more. Thanks to the sponsorship of PICAXE, I did.

PICAXE makes a Microchip PIC microcontroller with their own bootloader, as well as project boards and other products. The boards are easily to program with a BASIC style language, making them a great choice for beginners. They sponsored us, providing enough funds and their PICAXE-08 Motor Driver Boards for 100 attendees to build and take home their own fully programmable robot. Cost to the attendees: FREE.

There was so much demand, we had to turn people away. Everyone was excited to try to make their own robot. My feeling is that anyone can make a robot, and in fact everyone should make a robot. It's a great experience, involving mechanical, electrical, and programming skills. 

It was great to see so many young makers come out. It all starts with them.

These kids did a great job. They sat and listened for a full hour. They concentrated. They followed instructions. They asked good questions. Quite a few also skipped ahead of the instructions I was giving. They figured it out for themselves. Sometimes they made mistakes. All to the good. They learned.

But it's not just about the kids. Four years ago, despite a strong technical background and education, I was not working with electronics or robotics at all. It wasn't until my son was a few years old, that I was struck with the desire to make things again. I re-tapped into something from my youth. It was a desire to build, to discover and learn. I had that when I was a kid, and I wanted to give my own children the opportunity to make. 

We had young adults, parents, educators, and even one senior citizen participate. To some this was new, or like me, they were re-discovering something they hadn't done in a long while.

This was a hands on workshop. Here you can see a young lady attaching the wheels of her robot. 

One mother said to me, "I've never done anything like this. Is my son doing this right?" He sure was. I was glad to see a parent willing to sit with her kid through the workshop, even though it wasn't her own interest. 

A middle-aged man attended with an older gent  in a powered wheelchair, that I assume was his father. After the workshop, I sat with the older man for a while. He was so happy to work on a project that used his hands and his mind. We actually had a very nice conversation comparing the robot we built to his powered wheelchair.

One couple sat down to work with their own two kids. They even lent a hand to some other kids when they had questions. Most of the grown ups were more than happy to lend a hand if their neighbor was stuck on something. It was that kind of crowd. It was great to see.

I heard a lot of positive feedback after the workshop. Parents thanked me for giving their kids this opportunity. Everyone went away happy. 

This kid right here? The one on the left with the smile? This is my favorite moment from Maker Faire. 

That's pride. He made his very first robot. He did it himself with almost no help. 

He's just discovered something wonderful about himself. He can make. My fondest hope for him is that  he never loses that. I hope he takes that feeling into the world and does amazing things with it.

Those kids, boys and girls, those adults from teens to seniors, those people made this event my favorite way to spend my weekend. I can't wait until next year!