Virtual Reality, Masking Tape Sculpture and More at Maker Faire 2017

Imagine donning a virtual-reality rig and entering a workshop where you can build 3D objects and then print them in the real world. That’s the promise of MakeVR, an app that brings 3D modeling to the HTC Vive VR system. It was one of many creative wonders on display at the 2017 Maker Faire in San Mateo, Calif.

Virtual reality made a big leap into the mainstream last year with the introduction of the Vive and Oculus Rift. I tried the Oculus system at a tech expo in San Francisco, and since then I’ve been intrigued by the idea of making 3D imagery in cyberspace. If you’ve ever tried creating 3D graphics through a 2D user interface, you know how awkward it can be. So when a PR rep from HTC invited me to a Maker Faire test drive, I jumped at the chance.

[Related: Paula Scher Talks Technology in Design | Back to the Future: Shock & Boredom for Big Tech Design]

HTC Vive includes a headset, two hand-held controllers and two base stations that track your movements. The MakeVR demo took me through a series of tutorials in which I used the controllers to manipulate simple objects in a virtual world. For example, I could spread my arms to make objects larger, or do a steering gesture to rotate them. Toward the end of the demo, I was poking holes in a virtual smartphone case and attaching antennae to a virtual insect.

This is a version 1.0 product, and there’s plenty of room for improvement. What’s exciting to me is what it portends. VR gloves are already available, and I can foresee VR systems that let you enter virtual design studios and build entire worlds using hand gestures.

Meanwhile, back in the present, Maker Faire offered lots more wonderment. Billed as the “Greatest Show and Tell on Earth,” it’s a gathering place for all sorts of do-it-yourself projects and the technologies that enable them. Here are some other highlights:

3D printers are nothing new, but a company called Ono 3D drew crowds for its $99 printer, which uses a smartphone as the imaging engine. The secret is a set of resins that harden when exposed to light. The company is currently accepting pre-orders.

Ono is not alone in this category. T3D, a Taiwanese startup, says it will soon be on KickStarter with its own smartphone-enabled 3D printer. The company expects the device to sell for $299.

Of course, you don’t need high-tech gear to make great artwork. Danny Scheible is the creator of Tapigami, elaborate sculptures made from masking tape. One of his current initiatives is “Tape Wars,” a Star Wars takeoff that he describes it as a “fight against the lack of imagination.” (You can find humorous Tape Wars videos on YouTube.)

Tapigami has become a fixture at Maker Faire, but new this year was an illuminated installation inside the “Dark Room.”

Also in the Dark Room: “Lotus,” an illuminated sculpture by Los Angeles artist James Peterson.

Sonoma County artist Erick Dunn makes illuminated sculptures inspired by sea life.

Sacramento artist Kristen Hoard creates illuminated metal wall art and sculpture.

I have a weakness for steampunk and Rube Goldberg contraptions, and this Maker Faire project pushed both buttons: A steam-powered pencil sharpener from Kinetic Steam Works in Oakland.

Kinetic Steam Works also constructed this steam-powered four-color printing press. Each station printed one of the CMYK process colors. The result was a promotional card handed out to attendees. As you might expect, color registration was a big challenge. But it works, and I have a printed card to prove it.

Eastbridge Studio uses a CNC router to create portraits from plywood. The background is made from an audio wave of the subject’s voice. That’s company founder Jared White next to the portrait.

Kristin Henry of San Francisco creates “generative” artwork inspired by chemistry and physics. She got her start while creating materials for a science-education program. Fascinated by the visual potential in chemistry simulations, she embarked on a new art career. She’s also the founder of GalaxyGoo, a science-literacy organization.

Maker Faire’s SF Bazaar is a juried marketplace where artists and designers can sell their work. San Francisco illustrator Kacey Schwartz (right) hand-draws greeting cards and other pieces using a Wacom display. She does business as Mudsplash Studios.

Michelle Chandra of Dirt Alley Design turns maps of well-known places into maze posters.

Mark Thompson, aka “Monstark,” describes himself as a “were-beast who occasionally takes human form to create weird and monstrous art.”

Mother-and-daughter team Karen Sanders-Betts and Hannah Howerton created The Little Lemon that Leapt, a children’s book with an anti-bullying and “weird is wonderful” message. Karen (right) wrote the words and Hannah drew the pictures.

Mayene de la Cruz creates artwork based on donuts. By day, she works as a graphic designer.

Chris Ianelli makes robot-themed prints and objects.

You can see more photos from Maker Faire on my website and Facebook page.


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