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Activating The Henry Ford Archive of Innovation

Report from the Field: World Maker Faire 2015

October 6, 2015 Think THF

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Over the weekend of September 26-27, 2015, the 6th annual World Maker Faire was hosted at the New York Hall of Science. Much like Maker Faire Detroit at The Henry Ford, New York’s Faire benefited from an added sense of shared history that comes from producing such an event on the grounds of a museum. Maker demonstrations, workshops, and displays were set up outdoors, on the former grounds of the 1964 World’s Fair—an event that was full of technological spectacle. And inside the Hall of Science, modern-day Makers found communal space alongside the museum’s interactive demonstrations about space exploration, biology, mathematics, and much more. The continuum of the importance of the technology of the past—in tandem with the anticipative futures of the Maker Movement—was substantial and exciting to witness.

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It probably comes as no surprise, given recent acquisitions of the Atari Dig, that this curator would be excited to find a collection of playable arcade games. The Death By Audio Arcade contained several vintage-style multi-player indie games, created by developers working out of the famed Brooklyn music venue and boutique guitar effects pedal company (see THF’s here), Death by Audio.  Favorites included Galactic Nemesis, Particle Mace, and Michael Consoli’s work with Cartwheel Games.

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At the exhibit of the Hall of Science Amateur Radio Club, WB2JSM, ham radio was shown to be alive and well in the Internet Age. Ellen, a member of HOSARC and long-time ham operator, spent some time speaking with me about events where traditional radio-to-radio communication proved superior. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused mass disruption in wireless and Internet infrastructure; volunteer ham radio operators were called in to provide an emergency communication network at hospitals, police stations and shelters. As “the first Makers”—building communications equipment from scratch, soldering, and modifying it—the DIY ethos and technical skills of amateur radio operators remains a relevant, though perhaps underappreciated, network.

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At any Maker gathering, it has become standard to see 3D printers on view. A printer by the Italian company, WASP (World’s Advanced Saving Project), is sleekly designed, fast, and allows for printing with “alternative inks” like mud or clay. With the recent announcement of MIT’s 3D printer capable of printing with molten glass, the application of this technology towards fine craft processes is becoming more diverse. WASP recently gained some attention with their 40-foot tall printer, capable of printing houses in the event of a housing crisis. Whether or not we live in 3D printed homes in the future, the examples of printed clay vessels on view were refreshing to see.

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Applications of 3D printing were also explored in a display of the top thirty results of the NASA and America Makes 3D Printed Habitat Challenge. Using the unique capabilities of 3D printing, Makers were asked to engage their skills to create a sustainable habitat for deep space, and a journey to Mars. You can see a gallery of the models here.

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I also stumbled upon a vehicle that looked vaguely familiar: a Bell Telephone van, painted with the company’s 1980’s palette. A closer look revealed it to be the mobile exhibit for the infamous publication, 2600: The Hacker Quarterly. Originally founded in 1984 by Eric Corley (better known by his online persona, “Emmanuel Goldstein”), this magazine was established to provide technical information for those choosing to push the limits of technology and freedom of information. This philosophical approach of “grey hat” hackers is historically affiliated with 2600, and differs from the type of malicious “black hat” hacking prevalent in the media today. In addition to having a display of back issues of the magazine, the group also had a variety of 1980s hardware used in “phone phreaking”—the fine art of tricking older phone lines into giving free phone calls.

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At the Hive76 (Philadelphia) hackerspace, guests could have their portrait made in the ASCII art “photo booth,” where a web camera converted a live stream of images into plain text characters.

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One can typically expect to see interesting interactions between art, music, and science at any given Maker Faire. The P.A.M Band (Partially Artifical Musicians), created by Kurt Coble and Richard Ryniker, was a visually chaotic project, a mess of wires and electronics with clear links back to the history of automatons. The P.A.M Band is both a kinetic sculpture and a functioning robotic orchestra, capable of playing original ensemble scores through remote control.

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Aaron Taylor Kuffner’s Gamelatron is the “world’s first fully robotic gamelan orchestra.” In its traditional form, the gamelan is an ancient Indonesian instrument made up of an ensemble of percussive parts: gongs, xylophones, chimes, and hand drums. The Gamelatron is played by robotically controlled mallets, mingling modern and historic musical traditions. The sounds were profoundly soothing and meditative, drawing exhausted Faire-goers to sit and rest for a while to recharge before moving on. These types of quiet interludes are often welcomed at Maker Faire—a decompression space to escape from the crush of the afternoon crowds for a moment. In some ways, the two were at opposite ends of the sonic and visual spectrums, completely different in their generative modes of music making, yet aligned in their collective interest in experimenting with the vast potential of mechanized music.

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And finally, Genevieve Bell, fellow and vice president of the Corporate Strategy Office at Intel Corporation, led a fascinating talk called “Makers of the Machine Age.” She positioned several historical figures as “proto-Makers”—the names of which are likely familiar to fans of The Henry Ford. Using the likes of Thomas Edison, Charles and Ray Eames—and Henry Ford himself as examples—Bell spoke about the important attributes found among these figures should provide inspiration among Makers today. She discussed the importance of embracing failure in the creative process, improvising, and breaking the rules. Artifacts peppered her presentation with examples of inventions that are found in or are relevant to our museum’s collection: the Edison talking doll, Ford’s quadricycle, and the creative partnership between IBM and the Eames Office.

Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford.

DIY, Maker Faire, making

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