Maker Faire hits 10 years in Detroit as parent organization folds

James David Dickson
The Detroit News

Dearborn — For Maria Rasmer, 67, Sunday wasn't about the hot weather or the long drive from Bay City, to Dearborn, for the 10th Maker Faire in the Detroit area. It was about squeezing as much quality into the little time she has left with four grandchildren, who are set to move to Germany for four years as their father, Rasmer's son-in-law, meets his commitments to the U.S. Air Force.

Rasmer said her daughter, Stephanie Lee, has been with her now-husband, Thomas, since they were 19. When Thomas joined the military as a young man, she knew days like this — less than a month away from seeing her daughter's family leave the United States for years — were possible, and days like this have come and gone before. The family knows the drill.

Nicholas Tornopilsky, 12 of Warren, plays Beat Saber, a virtual reality game, at the Maker Faire event in Dearborn.

"We're trying to get in all the little things they wanted to do in Michigan before they go," Rasmer said, as grandson, Pierson, 12, waited for his turn to try on an Oculus virtual reality headset. "This is one of the things on the list. Everything we've seen today has been fascinating."

Those four grandchildren live in Illinois now, but Germany is more than a trip down I-94 away. 

"The goodbyes are always hard," Rasmer said. "They miss a lot of family functions. It's a lot of sacrifice, which people don't appreciate."

For Sana Mirza, 22, and others in the Makers Club at Oakland University group who showed off their creations Sunday, Maker Faire was their opportunity to receive some public attention for works long-suffered over privately.

Christian Flake, 11, of Romulus uses a Sensate, a prosthetic arm that alters one's perception of their own body and senses, created by former Oakland University student Sana Mirza, 22, of Troy.

Her project, Sensate, is a video game-inspired bionic arm a school-year in the making. Sensate was the former art student's senior thesis. While many in the group are engineers, Mirza approached the work from a slightly different angle, as an artist.

Along the way, she learned the technical skills needed to bring her vision to reality. 

"I learned how to program, I learned how to built and construct stuff, so I thought -- why not put my skills to use?" Mirza said. Months later, what resulted was a light-up bionic arm made of cardboard tube, cosplay foam, electronics, and LED strips.

"The idea that you have to be an engineer to make something like this, I totally want to do away with," Mirza said. "I'm not an engineer. I didn't know how to program when I first started at all...the whole idea of the Makers Club is that you make something because you want to, because it's fun. I like movies, I like video games, and I thought it'd be cool to make something you can actually wear."

Beth Smith, 39, has been attending Maker Faires in Detroit for the entire 10 years they've been in existence locally.

Alexis Ruffino, 12, of Port Huron, touches the R4-P23 droid robot, a replica of robots used in the 'Star Wars' movies. Maker Faire Detroit, the annual showcase of inventions and innovation at The Henry Ford, features demonstrations in everything from 3-D printing to blacksmithing to light-saber duels.

This year, she got herself and her four daughters — Kate, 10, Maggie, 8, Ellie, 6, and Penelope, 4 — in just a few hours under before shop closed at 6 p.m. Sunday.

"We've always been interested in technology and making things. This has probably been my favorite one so far. It's the biggest one and, maybe because my kids are getting older, I feel there's more for them to do, and keep them interested."

So important was it for the Smiths to make it to Dearborn on Sunday, where Detroit's 10th Maker Faire was held at The Henry Ford, that they made a beeline there from Indiana that morning, before even stopping home in Rochester Hills.

Asked what she hopes her four girls take away from the event, which describes itself as "part science fair, part county fair, part entirely something new," Smith said she wants them inspired by the creators and their works. 

"I hope they see the cool things these people have made, and realize they can create cool things too," Smith said. "We'll continue to come back as long as they continue having it here."

David Smith, 69, of Dearborn, owner of 3D Photography, looks through a pair of 3D glasses to view a photograph.

Maker Media, the organization that put on the very first Maker Faire in 2006, closed its doors in June. Maker Media founder and CEO Dale Dougherty told an NPR affiliate in northern California that "our mission is wonderful, we just weren't making a lot of money."

But a letter from Dougherty indicates Maker Faire events will go on. Dougherty wrote that "I couldn’t bear to see Make: and Maker Faire go away, so I have acquired all the assets of Maker Media and placed them in a new organization, Make Community LLC," which will "continue to manage and grow the global network of over 200 Maker Faires."