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Making it Better – Reflections on the Maker Faire Event

2012 November 21

By Vasu Kilaru

Read Vasu’s 1st blog about Maker Faire.

EPA crew at the Maker Faire in New York City.

In September, I was one of several EPA scientists sharing our research and technologies at the World’s Maker Faire held at the New York Hall of Science, a gathering of the Do-It-Yourself, maker community. Despite the weather (cool and rainy) the size of the event was purportedly a lot larger this year. 

We had tremendous interest in the cutting-edge technologies we shared at our booth, especially the remote-controlled helicopter EPA researcher Scott Moore uses to investigate smoke from wildfires.  You might think that interest in helicopters might be limited to a narrow demographic, but nothing could be further from the truth.  Curiosity about the miniature helicopter and what EPA was doing with it spanned all ages and genders.

Many also expressed interest in the sensors at our booth, both the ones that EPA brought as well as the Project Tricorder unit that Ohio State students Lujack Prater and Grace Crumrine developed with EPA mentors in a summer program at the Wright Brothers Institute.  They built their “Tricorder” in just 10 weeks, thanks to rapid prototyping platforms such as Arduino that make it possible for users to utilize microelectronics to “make” new and innovative “things” in a way never before possible. In fact, there was a whole tent dedicated to Arduino, one of the most popular platforms.    

Attending Maker Faire was an opportunity for us to see what others are doing with environmental sensors and monitors.

What did we see?

  • One of the big highlights was a device called Raspberry Pi.  Essentially, a computer the size of a credit card with inputs for a keyboard and mouse, and outputs to a monitor.  It uses a SD card for memory, runs a modified Linux stack for the operating system and is capable of doing the basic things that all computers do (word processing, spreadsheet, web browsing…etc).  Best thing is the cost…..$35! And of course it is open and therefore can be legally hacked.
  • Leif Percifield, a student from the Parsons School of Design, has developed a technology called Visualight, an open source, wifi-enabled light bulb that can be programmed to visualize data as colored light, a simple application with tremendous potential for environmental benefits.  So, for example, a light bulb in a home can provide alerts that a storm may overload the combined sewer system, so putting off water use (dishes or flushing) can help avoid potential raw sewage overflows. A very simple application with tremendous potential for environmental benefits. 
  • A Parsons School graduate created an Air Quality Egg with air quality sensors that can transmit the data to an online system to share with others. 
  • Another big draw this year was 3-D printing.  It has been around for a few years now but now seems to be really taking off. 

That is what Maker Faire is all about:  connecting folks with great ideas.

While it was a lot of fun, it was also hard work to stand for hours and talk loudly so people can hear you.  But the chance to participate in an event where everyone is excited about learning and sharing makes Maker Faire a unique experience, and one we are proud to have been part of.

About the Author: Vasu Kilaru works in EPA’s Office of Research and Development where he is currently working on the apps and sensors for air pollution initiative (ASAP), helping the Agency develop its strategic role and response to new sensor technology developments.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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