2020 has been a difficult year for many. While folks are struggling to survive through all of the challenges wrought by a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, and social unrest – we asked ourselves if an event would even be appropriate right now. So we asked the community and got a resounding “YES, PLEASE!” After postponing our event twice, we had numerous meetings about the role of Maker Faire Miami in the community and its responsibility to respond and adapt to the conditions of the time and to continue to fulfill our mission. It was clear that the pandemic was not a temporary disruption, and that it required us to work on re-imagining the experiences at Maker Faire Miami to be virtual.
It was incredibly important to us that we still have a chance to celebrate, connect, and inspire our community, especially in a time where social interaction and idea sharing are in dire need. So aside from making it completely virtual, we also decided to make it completely free so that anyone and everyone can join us this year. This resulted in makers joining in from across the country and across the world for the very first time. We were extremely excited to welcome a broader audience that brought with it new ideas and new perspectives to our local community. And although many people echoed the sentiments that a virtual event would never live up to the experience of doing things live and hands-on, we set out on a mission to get it as close as it could be to the level of interactivity we know and love from our coveted Maker Faire events.
Building on the lessons and successes of Virtually Maker Faire and NOMCON, we were on the hunt for a very long list of app features and capabilities to handle the various activities at the event. After careful consideration, we decided to transfer our entire platform to the Whova event app. The format of the online platform closely resembled the in-person structure in a few ways. Exhibitors were able to post their information on a profile page, announce exclusive offers and deals to attendees, have a recorded promo video on their page, and even host livestream sessions to do demonstrations. The Speakers and Workshop instructors also had their own pages where they could upload pre-recorded content that attendees could watch before the event and submit their questions on a Q&A window where upvoted questions would get asked by a moderator during the scheduled livestream interviews. Attendees and speakers also started logging in to the app before the event started and created discussion pages, uploaded articles, submitted project photos, created virtual meetups, and more! This allowed for many opportunities to connect, discuss, and share much like would be done in an in-person faire. Looking beyond the event, we were able to record all of the live Zoom webinars and make all 20+ hours of content available on The Maker Faire Miami YouTube Channel for the folks who were not able to attend on the scheduled times. We received many messages from makers with limited access to the internet thanking us for making this available for on-demand viewing as it is the only way they’d be able to see the talks.
Those are not the only activities that were completely redesigned to be virtual experiences. We were blown away by the local Power Racing Series organizers led by Andrew Rudolph as they created a Miami-themed track in a video game engine and re-created their custom carts to race in the game.
Attendees were able to log in and watch a Twitch stream of the races and even vote for their favorite teams using a virtual “Moxy Board”. 7 teams competed: 4 from Florida, 2 from Michigan, and 1 from California. What an amazing reimagining of the Power Racing experience! There was also a completely virtual weekend long Make-A-Thon to kick off year two of the Growing Beyond Earth Maker Contest by Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and Moonlighter FabLab. Over 120 participants joined in over the 9 scheduled sessions including a Botany Q&A with Dr.Gioia Massa, Project Scientist at NASA, and a collaborative whiteboard session using Miro to share ideas, resources, and links to components for the project. At the end 5 teams presented prototypes yielding 3 winners. One of the winning teams was RCS, a group of remote college students from different schools (Georgia Tech, University of Maryland, Illinois Institute of Technology, and Merrimack College) that met virtually and decided to collaborate on the project. It was a great example of how challenges are overcome when groups of people think creatively and adapt to spawn new forms of collaboration!
We were so thankful to feature some great speakers from across the country to present at the event. Aside from being incredibly talented makers, each and every one of them were incredibly kind and flexible during the whole process of converting their presentations into this new format.
Sophy Wong, Jen Schachter, John Park, Allie Weber, Elijah Horland, Jenny Lorenzo, Liz Clark and Andrea Gellatly educated and inspired the community with their panel discussions, project showcases, and Q&A sessions.
John walked us through the process, equipment, techniques, and controlled chaos of producing his weekly live shows.
Allie debuted her latest project, the Rubik’s Arcade Bot, that allows you to manipulate (and attempt to solve) a Rubik’s cube using only 3 buttons.
Elijah led a workshop on how to make a Birchbox Game Controller using mostly recycled materials, and spoke about his experiences on MythBusters Jr.
Jenny Lorenzo hosted an AMA about the world of Content Creation and social media video production.
Liz Clark showed us how she built her incredible robot xylophone powered by CircuitPython and the BLE MIDI library.
Eric Elg appeared with members of the 501st Legion and spoke about what it takes to join the 501st.
Andrea was gracious enough to host a number of BattleBots Panels with the help of Luke Stangel from Behind The Bots. Together they welcomed many of the amazing team leaders over 5 scheduled Bot Builder Sessions including Bite Force captain Paul Ventimiglia, Tombstone captain Ray Billings, DeathRoll captain Steven Martin, Nelly the Ellybot captain Sarah Malyan, HiJinx captain Jen Herchenroeder, Ferocity captain Julia Chernushevich, Sporkinok captain Lilith Specht, and of course, Andrea Gellatly herself, from Team Witch Doctor. Although it was sad to postpone Witch Doctor’s original plan for a Robot Riot event that already had 46 robots registered to compete, it was a fun weekend full of lots of Bot Talk – and even ending our Friday sessions with a bedtime reading of B is for BattleBots, written by Andrea Gellatly, Illustrated by Caleb Kempson, and in this video – read by a bunch of these wonderful featured team captains!
It was a weekend full of all of our favorite things – creative people, interesting projects, and an invigorated community. It all wrapped up with a short video by Dale Dougherty, Founder of Make: Community discussing how Makers play a huge civic role in our society. We may celebrate with wacky games, crazy designs, and experimental concepts – but collectively we have the power to make real changes in our world, as made apparent by the distributed Open Source Medical Supplies efforts creating PPE for front line medical workers during this pandemic. It’s a great call to action to use our talents to build the world we want to see! We hope that the situations improve and we can once again resume safe in-person events. But until then, we’re happy we’ve found a solution to connect virtually. We call on all of you to keep on making, keep on learning, and keep on sharing! Thank you for being a part of Maker Faire Miami 2020 and making it a meaningful and memorable experience.