Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire welcomes tinkering tots

Mini Maker event debuts robots, handmade projects

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Visitors to the Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire will get a first look today at the Pirates' newest pitching prospect.

The 12-foot-tall "Rookie of the Gear" pitching machine will be one of 75 handmade or homemade projects on display inside and outside the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Following today's field trial, the mechanical hurler will throw out the first pitch when the Bucs meet the St. Louis Cardinals Sept. 1 at PNC Park.

The Pirates and the Cardinals are battling for first place in the National League's Central division.

The design of the pitching machine was based on that of a stone-chucking medieval trebuchet. It was constructed and refined over the summer at the Makeshop project center at the Children's Museum.

Attending today's event will be Californian Dale Dougherty, the founder of Make magazine. The magazine, which provides ideas for multiple projects in each issue, in turn gave birth to the Maker Faires that are now held all over the world. This year marks the third annual event in Pittsburgh.

As Mr. Dougherty explains it, the people exhibiting, demonstrating and teaching at a Maker Faire often combine new technologies with traditional crafts and skills. The results on display today will include "Cuddly Circuits" -- knitted stuffed animals brought into the 21st century with the use of electronic components and e-textiles that can light up and respond to handling.

"Just as importantly this event is meant to be fun," he said. "The robots may make music or have flashing lights. We want kids and adults to ask 'How do I get to build that?' "

"This event is a reminder to people that they should see themselves as makers," he said. "I hope that when parents see their kids enjoying an event like this, they will be encouraged to buy them a set of screwdrivers rather than the latest iPhone application."

The Pittsburgh Mini Maker Faire is a co-presentation of the Children's Museum and HackPittsburgh, a nonprofit workshop whose members share tools and skills in pursuit of creative projects. Members include inventors, engineers, scientists, hobbyists, artists and arts-and-crafts makers.

Jane Werner, executive director of the Children's Museum, described Maker Faire as an ideal partner for her institution.

"We believe in hands-on learning and learning by doing," she said, pointing to the museum's tradition of interactive displays and exhibits.

The projects being demonstrated should interest adults as much as children, she predicted.

The Girls of Steel robotics team will bring EVE, their Frisbee-shooting creation. The mechanical creature made by the young people in the Sarah Heinz Advanced Robotics Program competed in "Ultimate Ascent" contests as part of the national FIRST robotics program.

Using hand-held controllers, fairgoers will have a chance to drive some of the robots.

An event like a Maker Faire brings the region back to its deep manufacturing roots, Ms. Werner said. "It shows Pittsburgh drawing on its past and projecting into the future."

Mr. Dougherty said he sees his project-oriented magazine as a successor to Popular Mechanics, which provided designs for better feed troughs and wind-driven iceboats.

"Think of it as 'Martha Stewart for Geeks,' " he said. "I like to learn how to do something I've never done before -- brewing beer, making cheese. ... I'm not going to be the best person doing this, but I still can appreciate it and enjoy it."

And from those many efforts can come technological advancements. "This is the bedrock from which innovation comes and talent grows," he said.

Entrance to the Mini Maker Faire is included with admission to the Children's Museum. Tickets are $13 for adults and $12 for children. The 75 display areas will be set up inside the museum and in nearby Buhl Community Park. The museum is at 10 Children's Way in Allegheny Commons on the North Side. For more information call 412-322-5058 or visit the website pittsburghkids.org.

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Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.


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