Maker Faire, a DIY hobbyist event first held in the USA some eight years ago has since spawned similar events the world over. Countries as far away China, Japan and Australia have all had their own Maker Faires. And in November 2014, Maker Faire reached Malaysian shores.
To be precise, it was a Mini Maker Faire, which is a smaller version of the event but still, it was a good start. “I would say we achieved our objective, which is to promote the awareness of the Makers movement,” says Bernard Hiew, an event participant and a member of the organizing committee from the Penang Science Cluster, an industry-led grouping that promotes public interest in science.
The idea for bringing the event to Malaysia had its genesis in conversations by members of the Penang Science Cluster. “We were talking about the maker community, and how we think the community in Penang is pretty strong and that we should find a way of bringing different makers together here,” says Chris Kelly, General Manager of Intel’s Malaysia Design Center.
CREST was invited to play a lead role in organizing the event. Soon enough, a whole slew of organisations came on board – including Intel, National Instruments, Altera, Motorola Solutions, Silterra and Koridor Utara Malaysia.
“When the opportunity arose for us to be part of the Penang Mini Maker Faire, we were on board immediately,” says Intel’s Kelly. “Driving the Maker Movement through events like this is an extension of our focus on emphasising the importance of education and science education in Malaysian schools and universities.”
With the Penang Science Cluster as its partner, the event was held together with the Penang International Science Fair.
“Since I work in Motorola, where I’m in charge of soldering, I thought it would make sense for me to have a booth to teach people – adults and kids – soldering,” says Hiew. “Motorola lent us the soldering equipment and Vincent Kok, an engineering student from USM helped to design the boards.
Hiew was uncertain how the crowd would react but the response took him by surprise. “It was overwhelming,” he says. “I thought we had enough materials to last us for the entire event but by 12 noon on Day 2, we ran out of supplies.”
Another participant was Aidil Jazmi, an engineer from Altera, who showcased a self-balancing scooter, not unlike the Segway. “It was the first time my creation was exhibited to the public – before that only my friends and colleagues saw it,” he says. “It was really gratifying to meet people who were interested in how the self-balancing mechanism works. I like meeting such like-minded makers. Some of the visitors really understood what I was talking about and I think given the chance, they would be exhibiting their own creations in future Maker Faires.”
Although many of the exhibits had electrical and electronic elements, there were also exhibitors who were in the arts and crafts field as well. For example, there was an origami booth organized by the Malaysian Origami Association.
Citra Taa of Taneedleart, who had a booth featuring her handmade bags and accessories, found the event very useful. “It was an opportunity for me to connect with people and share about my handmade projects and products,” she says. “I had so much fun sharing how to make flowers out of scrap fabric, how to make keychains from felt, how to make bags and wooden art by deecraft. The Penang Mini Maker Faire was an awesome event and certainly worth being a part of.”
School children were also involved, with some 40 teams from various schools participating. One of the exhibits, “Re-Up Recyclable Urban Park”, showcased a system that is designed to automatically water plants when the soil is dry.
“The students stumbled upon this project called ‘Refarm the City’ which inspired them but there was very little instructions available,” says Alina Amir, the school teacher who supervised the project. “So, they started experimenting, first with the design, then with getting materials: power switchers from a washing machine, ceramic filter from a tap filter and tubes. In time they managed to get the entire system to work.”
Alina felt the event was really encouraging for her students. “They probably presented their project to hundreds of people who stopped by the booth,” she says. “Seeing how relentless they were, explaining over and over again, with so much passion clearly shows how much they enjoyed the experience. Creating an innovative project is one thing but being able to share it with others, that’s what’s really meaningful.”
Altera’s Aidil hopes there will be another Mini Maker Faire. “The Penang Mini Maker Faire was a big success but I feel the event was not publicized enough,” he says. “I hope next year we can do more to publicize the event so that more makers will come out to join the event. I believe in years to come, we will see bigger and bigger participation and have it as its own event (rather than holding it in conjunction with the Penang International Science Fair).
Motorola’s Hiew agrees that in order for future iterations of the Mini Maker Faire to be seen to be a real success, it needs to stand on its own. “If as a standalone event, we still draw a big crowd, perhaps we can one day do the big one and have a proper Maker Faire rather than just a Mini version,” he says. “This is something we should strive for.”