When I was asked to give a talk at Maker Faire, I honestly had never even heard of the event. As I checked out the website and found out more about it, I knew there was no way I could miss it. Imagine a big corporation like GE having a personal presence at the largest do-it-yourself venue in the country? People would get the chance to know that our GE Research scientists and engineers have the same creativity and perseverance as the nation’s back-yard inventors and artists … and I would get to tell them about it.
Arriving a day early to setup our booth and meet with the technology media, I also had the opportunity to get a sneak peak at what the public would see over the next few days. I was truly impressed at the machines, vehicles, sculptures, electronics, musical instruments, tools, performances and more that people had brought to display. I just had to see as much of everything I could that first day even though I knew I would have two more days at the event.
My talk was about “hacking” our own GE security system sensor to use it as a health monitor (see my related blog about “radar for vital signs”). It was the perfect story for Maker Faire, since we re-purposed an existing product for use in a seemingly unrelated application. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to pack the sensor in my luggage and upon seeing the hands-on nature of the exhibits, I set out a search of all the home security companies in San Francisco that could sell me one on the fly. With no luck early on a Saturday morning, I decided to take a walk around the hotel and noticed a mom-and-pop hardware store next door. I asked the cashier if they sold home security systems and she said they just put up a new display in isle 11. As luck would have it, the display was all GE devices! With sensor in-hand, my talk would now be complete.
That first day, I realized we are all “makers” in our both professional careers and in our personal lives. In stark contrast to my formal suit and tie talks at professional conferences and advisory committees, I prepared one slide about my own personal “maker” experiences. The slide included my earliest interest in electronics practicing ham radio with my father, my experiments with used camping trailers, old movie theater seats and a welder, my other experiments with wooden water skis, a broken kid’s scooter and snowmobiles, and my mountain cabin construction with native materials gathered from the woods. Maker Faire also inspired me to connect technology and artistry together with music, so since my return, I’ve started welding up my own electrified junkyard percussion set.
The spirit of invention is alive and well in garages, back-yards, and basements just as it is alive at GE Research. I hope everyone takes the opportunity to see and learn from others and gets a chance to tell their own “maker” story.