GE and Maker Faire Are a Match Made in Nerd Heaven

This year GE was a sponsor of the spring version of Maker Faire held out in San Francisco. Our main contributions to the festivities consisted of a completely solar powered carousel and a booth in the health2.0 pavilion, which contained a collection of our body mass index measurement devices. Both exhibits were well attended. In addition my colleague Jeff Ashe and I were both given the opportunity to make ½ hour speeches. Jeff gave a presentation on his work with at-a-distance measurements of vital signs such as respiration and heartbeat, using a modified version of a radar detector originally developed for security applications. I gave a general talk on computer vision methods and how they apply to such spaces as prison yards and smart patient rooms. It was standing room only for both talks.

The Makers themselves are a somewhat eclectic group. There were large numbers of people who enjoy tinkering with electrical and mechanical devices. Musicians such as Arc Attack were there with their singing Tesla coils.  The craft community was busy knitting away while the steam punks were out and about on their fantastic bicycles. Google had its wind-powered car and rumor had it that Steve Wazniak was roaming around on his Segway.

Two of the stars of the event were Stephen Voltz and Fritz Grobe who are famous for their viral Coke and Mentos videos. I enjoyed a talk they gave on their approach to innovation as it applies to performance art. Their method follows the 1-10-100 principle. It takes one experiment to spark a concept. By experiment 10 one should have fleshed things out and have defined a direction. By experiment 100 one hopes to have found something that is sublime… The four rules that they espouse are: 1) seek variation – explore the possibilities. 2) be obsessive – keep focused until one finds something special.3) be stubborn – don’t give up until you work through the problems. 4) set limits and work within them – unconstrained innovation meanders and wonders, only by setting limits does it force one to dive into the depths of a concept. Their thoughts are somewhat reminiscent of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, where the key idea is to have an obsession with quality and to always have a good pot of coffee close at hand.

All in all, the entire event was like a cross between a Star Trek convention and a Renaissance Faire. While there was certainly a lot of posing, it was all good-natured, inclusive and fun. People were essentially there to share their joy in making things. I was asked a couple of times how the Maker community compares to a place like GE Global Research.  Although there is definitely a more serious nature of our weighty research agenda, but deep down, what attracts people to a place like Global Research is what attracts people to Maker Faire – a passion to innovate, improve, development, invent, and explore new ideas.  The Maker Faire was like an alternative Global Research universe, one were resources can be more scarce and the management doesn’t exist!  Check out some videos of the trip below.


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