In conjunction with us winning the Ultimate Arduino Challenge \o/ and thus a study trip to Italy, we participated in Maker Faire Rome 2019. The event is reportedly Europe’s largest innovation event and counts more than 130k visitors over three days.
The audience is primarily Italian-speaking, but the exhibitors come from all over the world, from the large multinational players in the market to associations of various kinds and universities to amateur inventors and family projects.
The big players – the sponsors – fill out most the picture with well-polished demonstrations and products, but the most interesting experiences tended to be “out in the corners”.
Our contribution – “The Flying Hacker Lab” was at the relatively unpolished end of the scale. The lab is a mobile maker space designed to teach teachers to teach STEM.
All code involved is available under a free license on Gitlab.
At the Maker Faire, the lab consisted of five workshops on our 50m² stand:
1) Build a tower and topple it by sending a program to a Dark Side Rover. Very popular – the moment just before the tower falls is highly intense!
2) Understand sensors and actuators, inputs, outputs and the concept of functions using some small simple arduino setups. Sensors included ultrasound, accelerometer, light, temperature, pushbutton.
3) Model a planetary orbit using differential equations in p5 by copying a 20-line script into Khan Academy’s visual p5 interpreter. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of children (from about 6+) have the patience to spell their way through the script and truly get a beginning understanding of the concept by playing with the variables.
4) Build luminous jewelry using copper wire, LED and solder. A fun way to introduce the participants to soldering, although soldering the SMD LED directly on the copper wire motor skill-wise proved to be difficult for beginners.
5) Hack a logo (themes: #HackTheSystem and #MadeOnEarthByHumans): workshop on storytelling and branding. Notions that tend to be underestimated in maker cultures, but important if you want to scale a concept.
Our hacker lab ran from approx. pm. 9-19 during three days with a staff of 4 persons on average. During that time we had over 600 children through the course. Quite intense!
The Tuesday before, we had visited Arduino’s design center and one of their factories in Turin. Not unexpectedly, we got the impression of a very interesting company: their commitment to free and open designs puts a constant innovation pressure on them. Nevertheless, the director Fabio Violante appeared relaxed, listening and insightful.
It was also completely accepted and normal that we take pictures of everything we saw. As we saw at the factory, Arduino’s strategy only works thanks to a high degree of automation of production as well as thorough testing and quality assurance of the units.
Arduino’s boards are perhaps the world’s most copied, which they have a somewhat ambivalent relationship with: on the one hand, they acknowledge that openness in their designs has been the key to their success, but on the other hand, they are also confined to a relatively small market share.
On the way out Fabio gave us out a handful of their new Uno Wifi Rev. 2 boards to replace the Chinese $4 clone sitting on our Dark Side Rover. It took a few hours of effort to make it play, namely because they removed the SPI bus on pins 11-13, which we use for the rover’s camera.
That happened to be be incredibly lucky: It turned out to be a known problem that the Wi-Fi band at these fairs gets overloaded, which the Chinese boards could not handle at all. The ublox NINA W-13 wifi modules of the Arduino, on the other hand, ran steadily, so that our primary activity – to remotely program the rover to topple towers – actually worked!