Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Benicia Mini Maker Faire will once again put innovation on display

(Originally published in the 4/13/16 edition)

   Last year, Benicia Makerspace—the 501(c) 3 nonprofit group that brings local creators together in a space where they can share and build innovative, new ideas— held its first Mini Maker Faire at Benicia Middle School. It was such a success that, of course, a followup was inevitable. Like many great sequels, expect this one to retain what you loved about the first installment while building on it and bringing plenty of things you have not seen before.
   After all, creating things you have not seen before is what Benicia Makerspace is all about. 
   The organization began as the brainchild of President Aaron Newcomb and Liberty High School science teacher Nicci Nunes, who also serves as the organization’s secretary. It started as an internet fundraising campaign in 2012 and was formally registered as a nonprofit group in 2014. It began operating out of a portable on the grounds of Benicia Unified School District before moving into a permanent home at 4592 E Second St. in the Industrial Park last summer.
   “That really helped us build up momentum and get us to where we’re at today, where we have all kinds of physical hardware and software available for our members to use whenever they want,” Newcomb said. 
   Newcomb says the goal of Makerspace is to reintroduce the concept of hands-on learning to the Bay Area, something he feels has fallen by the wayside in recent decades. 
   “What we want to do is encourage both kids and adults to come back to learning in a real way,” he said. “By real, I mean a physical way, so not just in a classroom setting but to be able to apply what you learned in a classroom in a physical environment in a physical way.
   “If you’re learning advanced mathematics, you can come in and work on a project that applies to those theories that you’re learning into a product,” he added.
   What Newcomb and Nunes have done is create a space in Benicia where creators and entrepreneurs can come together to share their innovative ideas and be able to see them come into fruition. The space has all kinds of equipment that people can use to create their ideas, including woodworking tools, welding materials, computers and 3-D printers.
   “You can actually develop a product or part and take it over to the 3-D printer and print it out,” Newcomb said. “Within a few hours, your idea has gone from just an idea to an actual thing you can hold in your hands and test as a prototype.”
   Through Makerspace, people have created objects in the areas of robotics, alternative energy, Raspberry Pi computers and electric vehicles. 
   Newcomb said one of the most unique things he saw created in the studio was an articulated hand in which a button was pressed to make the fingers and joints curl up. The maker of this particular item is 13 years old. 
   “It’s really incredible to see someone of that age make something that a lot of adults would never dream of being able to make,” Newcomb said. 
   The articulated hand will be featured at this year’s Maker Faire, which will feature a cornucopia of interactive exhibits that will appeal to the entire family. Think of it as a mini-Exploratorium with just as many objects that adults and children will find equally enthralling.
   Some of the returning exhibits from last year include the giant bubble station and a station to launch paper rockets. There will also be a variety of new exhibits this year. Bay Area Engine Modelers will be brining in scale models of various engines. Tapigami creator Danny Scheible will be demonstrating how many sculptures can be created using just masking tape.San Francisco-based Riveropolis will have a 45-foot stream where people can create boats out of various materials to float and see how durable they are.
   There will also be a visit by some droids who traveled from a galaxy far, far away. Full-scale models of R2-D2 and BB-8 from “Star Wars” will be roaming around and interacting with attendees. People who attend the Faire will also have the chance to win a remote-controlled BB-8 toy from Hasbro. 
   Finally, Benicia Makerspace will have its own exhibit: an 8 foot by 16 foot laser maze. Participants will have to crawl through without touching the lasers and reach the end within the time limit. 
   Newcomb hopes the Faire will turn participants on to what is possible and also inspire them to start creating things in their garage or elsewhere.
   “If you think back to companies like Apple or Hewlett-Packard, they started in someone’s garage because they had an idea that sprang forward and they worked on it,” he said. “They weren’t afraid to try things out with their hands,” he said. “we hope people walk away saying, ‘Hey, this was a cool project. I’m going to go home and make one of those too.’”
   The Mini Maker Faire will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, April 16 at Benicia Middle School, located at 1100 Southampton Road. Tickets can be purchased at, and they will actually be cheaper when purchased ahead of the event than on the day of. Tickets purchased before Saturday are $12 for adults, $6 for children ages 4 to 17 and $36 for families consisting of two adults and three children. For more information, contact Newcomb at or Nunes at


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