DIY Paradise at Maker Faire

The annual Bay Area carnival attracts the best Makers in the land. See what caught our eye this year

We’re back from this weekend’s Maker Faire, the third-annual event in San Mateo, CA . Our friends at Make continue to up the ante, bringing DIYers from far and wide to show off their projects at the ultimate geek county fair.

Launch our gallery to see just a handful of the amazing stuff on display this weekend, from the iPhone-controlled watering can to the hacked Guitar Hero controllers that serve as—gasp!—real instruments. PopSci Podcaster Chuck Cage also threw together the great Maker Faire highlight reel below.

If you missed the Faire this weekend, never fear: the circus rolls into Austin, Texas later this year.

Giants at the Gates

This pair of serious sculptures made from steel cabling greeted Makers

Mobile Flamethrower

This mobile flame thrower rig built by the folks at Great House Labs definitely takes the award for the most lethal project we saw. Built up from a modified golf cart, this mobile roaster can shoot 30-foot jets of fire propelled via pressurized propane. Here we see it in “anti-low-flying-bird” configuration.

Carnage Starts Here

A closer look at the mobile flame thrower’s muzzle.

It’s a Great Gas

Propane, honored here with a great poster, is unsurprisingly the star of many of Maker Faire’s more pyromaniacal works.

The Guitar Zeros

The Guitar Zeros are a band that uses their own custom software to turn Guitar Hero controllers into actual functioning instruments. A laptop running Max MSP converts signals from the controllers (whammy bar, shake-sensor and all) and uses it to drive any number of synthesized sounds. The controller’s five neck buttons allow for a 32-note scale. Here, Owen Grace (who plays “lead controller”) gives some pointers to a young shredder. Turning a fake instrument that simulates a real one back into an actual functioning guitar? So meta our heads are going to explode!

Model RC Warship Battle

Similar to the North Texas Battle Group we saw in dry dock at Maker Faire Austin, the Western Warship Combat Club had full-on Axis vs. Allies battles in a mini-ocean. Yes, those are fully functioning quarter-inch BB guns you see on the turrets. Protective eyewear for the spectators was mandatory.

Vintage Microfilm Synth

Proving you can make a synthesizer out of just about everything, this modded microfiche reader emits a tone whose frequency is modulated by the darkness of the area under the sensor seen in the middle—dark areas produce a low note, and bright areas result in a higher tone. Here a vintage VCR schematic is being played. None of that modern stuff!

iPhone: It Can Also Water Your Plants

Peter Bergstrom’s iPhone Web app sends the phone’s accelerometer orientation to a small Web server via Javascript, which then starts a motor to tilt a watering can. Tilting the iPhone horizontally brings the can down, and turning it back to vertical brings the can back up.


Disney was on hand to demo their still-under-development Wall-E toys. This one can be radio-controlled to drive around the floor, blink its eyes or raise its arms, or it can also be set to follow a sound source autonomously, which promises hours of fun for a toddler or hours of trips to the dog whisperer for your pooch after he loses his mind.

DIY Drones

The folks at create home-brew UAVs like the Air Force’s Predator and Global Hawk. This rig uses a Lego Mindstorms computer, an accelerometer and gyroscope to measure orientation and a GPS module to track its location to allow for autonomous flight.