The entranceway at last year’s Maker Faire. Photo: Ekai

One of the most exciting outcomes of the discussion at Berkeleyside’s Local Business Forum in January was the notion that the city had a real chance to establish itself as a hotspot for the burgeoning maker movement. Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson and Autodesk CEO Carl Bass waxed eloquent of the coming shift to viable, small-scale manufacturing, and about the potential of under-utilized space in West Berkeley.

Dozens of makers are already thriving in Berkeley, and many of them will be strutting their stuff at the annual Maker Faire in San Mateo this weekend. A list compiled by the organizers shows a couple of dozen Berkeley-based makers among the hundreds exhibiting, demonstrating and wowing the crowds.

The Maker Faire core audience is adult and child geeks, for sure, but even if you only classify yourself as mildly intrigued by technology and human ingenuity, you should try to go. There’s nothing like it.

Here’s a preview of some of the Berkeley makers on show. 

A student-run team will run Impulse in the 2011 World Solar Challenge across Australia

The CalSol car looks like something out of The Jetsons, but it’s a working prototype that will be in this year’s World Solar Challenge, an 1,800-mile expedition from Darwin in Australia’s far north to Adelaide in the south. The newest creation of the 75-strong student team is Impulse (above). You can marvel at it this weekend.

A very different kind of transportation is used by Berkeleyan Dan Goldwater and his colleagues at Monkeylectric. They’ll be showing how to create digital light art with — of course — bicycles.

A DIY magnetic stirrer from Tekla Labs

Lina Nilsson and her colleagues at Berkeley-based Tekla Labs are harnessing the maker movement for a very different purpose: using off-the-shelf materials to create high-quality lab equipment. The goal is to allow scientists in developing countries to have access to previously unaffordable, specialist lab equipment. Tekla is creating an online library of easy-to-follow blueprints so that anyone can make the equipment.

Or would you rather have your kids be budding MacGyvers, making an arc welder, or turning a casket into a jetski? That’s what Berkeleyan Matthew Jervis is aiming at in his MacGyver Class, subtitled “creative problem solving for kids”.

If you’re a regular Berkeleyside reader you already know about the Dale Family oil press and the PiE high school robotics competition. It’s all at the Maker Faire, along with other jaw-dropping ideas. Even though it’s not in Berkeley, you should go.

Update Through the comments, we’ve been alerted to Gokart Craze, out of Cragmont Elementary School. Ten-year olds Stavros Boutris and Jake Wallin worked with their dads to design and build this sleek-looking go kart.

The “Awekart”, by two students at Cragmont School

The Maker Faire runs from 10am to 8pm on Saturday and from 10am to 6pm on Sunday at the San Mateo County Event Center. Tickets can be purchased in advanced through the Maker Faire site.

Lance Knobel

Lance Knobel (co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine in Britain,...

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22 Comments

  1.  I think there were a lot of other Berkeley-based/related Makers at the Maker Faire: http://makerfaire.com/bayarea/2011/search/?x-search=berkeley

    I was with the Berkeley Institute of Design and we actually received 5 Maker Education Awards this weekend!

  2. “– I agree Sharkey. I suppose it’s just a waiting game. The demographics of Berkeley are changing and progress will eventually come.”
     
    Amen to that!  But the obstructionists are already a relatively small and dwindling minority in Berkeley.  They retain inordinate influence due to the fact that many of their anti-growth and development policies have been long codified into city policy and enshrined by local custom. 
     
    The key to enacting a real Perestroika in Berkeley is not so much waiting for the aging “caviar communists” to dematerialize, but for the “silent majority” of moderate, reasonable, forward looking Berkeley residents to get more active in shaping the future and taking back our city government and its commissions from a small cadre of more or less fulltime apparatchiks.
     
    Militate for your own causes!  Get more involved in issues which directly affect your quality of life.  Fight back against the reactionary Old Guard!  Give Berkeley’s ossified radicals a taste of their own medicine!  Teach them a lesson!  You too can raise bloody hell when you need to. 
     
    Over many years of living in Berkeley, it’s been my observation that the ruling class in Berkeley functions like a Wizard of Oz who can quickly be brought down to size once you mobilize, protest, spread the word, and advocate for change yourself.   I second Sharkey’s points about the supercilious arrogance of this ruling elite.
     
    When this oligarchy effectively controlled the means of communication, it was easier for them to silence and marginalize critics and to distort information in favor of their interests.  But with the rise of internet communication and more diverse portals of information, this information monopoly has been irrevocably busted. 
     
    Even on this forum, we can now see that Berkeley’s once most esteemed and influential news editor is now little more than another “comment voice” — no more or less credible than any other community observer.  Ironically enough, this breakdown in any type of real opinion hierarchy approximates the radical egalitarianism envisioned in the end of days “pure communism.” 

  3. Some of what he says is reasonable (the stuff about the definition of “manufacturing”), and it sounds like he’s trying to look at both sides, but he isn’t. When you actually pick apart what he says and translate it out of Tom-Lordeese you’ll see that all he does is blame the victim (businesses), defend whatever exists now (outdated zoning), and attack anyone who’s advocating change (developers).

    Unfortunately we’re still stuck with the old guard anti-everything hippies here in Berkeley who feel like it’s their appointed duty to come out with lawsuits swinging any time someone wants to change anything.

    They hide behind the claims that they’re just challenging the City’s poor wording of ballot measures (to block new libraries), and claim that they’re just challenging the City’s definitions (to block zoning changes), but every time they do one of them slips up and falls back into that good old anti-developer rhetoric that gives them away.

  4. Stagnating cesspool??!!
    I’m sorry to hear about your particular bit of the neighborhood – and I understand that it just takes one bad neighbor to make things really bad (been there, done that) but West Berkeley in general is emphatically not a stagnating cesspool!

  5.  West Bezerkeley,

    Swerve is a project of the Goldin’s who also own the facility at 2629 Seventh Street.  I wasn’t on the West Berkeley tour you refer to so I’m going to refer to stuff the Goldin’s have said over the past many years to get some understanding of the obstacles you might have heard about on the tour.

    I agree with you (from what I can see of it) that the “manufactory” is a neat thing.   That highly flexible manufacturing technology will only get better in coming years.   It is an example of the kind technology that tells us that rumours of the death of light industrial are greatly exaggerated.   It’s the kind of technology that the Wired guys are talking about.

    What do we learn about zoning, here, though?  Not much!  (So, why do the Goldin’s care?  I’ll get to that.)    There are two main parts: landmarks preservation and zoning.

    An early part of the hassles they faced with that project were landmark preservation questions back in 1999 and 2000.    As near as I can tell they weren’t planning the manufactory back then — they had a rather different plan  (am I misreading the record here?).   The LPC (which then included the supposedly anti-development Becky O’Malley)  dropped the structure of merit concerns fairly quickly.   In any event, these landmark questions aren’t really much relevant to the controversial use changes of the West Berkeley Plan revisions.

    Back then they also had some back and forth getting zoning variances (on hight and parking, for example) that were ultimately won on appeal before council.   These are slightly more relevant but, having won appeal, they still took years and then did what appears to be a very different project.  Can’t blame the city for a delay starting and changing a project approved years earlier.

    More recently my understanding is that the main dispute has been whether or not a large amount of “office space” counts as “industrial” or “manufacturing” space if ostensibly it is there to support the warehouse-space full of robots.   Well, WeBAIC got this about right, if you ask me.   They said it’s legitimate to count as part of manufacturing the office space needed to actually run the robots, but it is not legitimate to count as manufacturing the intellectual property development of people sitting at computers making up designs to feed the robots.   

    Mostly, the design work should be expected to come from elsewhere.   A guy in NYC came up with the bike part design, say.   An engineer at Meyer, let’s imagine, came up with the design for the speaker part.    That’s a large part of what makes these kinds of robots economically interesting:  that the product design work and the rapid and inexpensive configuration of the factory are separate.  Instead of 20 on-site designers, you can have thousands and thousands of off-site designers whose designs can be used not only by the Swerve manufactory, but by other similar facilities all around the world.    There’s no need to transport shipping containers full of aluminum auditorium chairs:  just download the plans from the net and submit a job for your local manufactory.

    It’s not that automatic.   There is no “standard manufactory,” quite.  This particular manufactory (which does seem to have an eye on collaborating with remote designers) appears to require enough configuration and experimenting that, for non-trivial products, of course you want to let designers on campus to interactively perfect configurations.    That doesn’t quite stretch, though, to justifying use as an office park.

    In other words, I think that Swerve and the Goldin’s have a great argument for the city to get real clear and up to date about what the definition of “manufacturing” is — but it would be a mistake and corruption to twist that into counting office parks as “manufacturing — where they ‘make’ ‘ideas'”.   The core of what the Goldin’s advocate in this area seems solid — the over-interpretation of what they advocate may help a few developers in the short term but is bad public policy.

    It is said, and I assume that there’s some truth to it, that one or more of the Goldin’s own a decent amount of property there and have a strong interest in development.   Certainly they’ve been very active in City politics for a long time pressing for all kinds of development liberalization in W. Berkeley.    They have some incentive to want to weaken just about every regulation they can as regards development.   So I don’t expect to much find them arguing in favor of regulation.    It’s worth looking at their advocacy with both skepticism and an open-mind:   an open-mind to some good parts and some skepticism that they are situationally inclined to over-reach.

  6. @ Zelda — Is the vacancy rate 4% of available land, or 4% of available lots? How many of the un-vacant properties are currently active sites of production and employment? How many of the un-vacant properties have tenants/owners that are just letting the buildings go to rot?

    I know you folks love to quote that vacancy rate, but it doesn’t really tell us anything.

  7. Jarad:  With all due respect, you don’t know what you are talking about.

    1. Manufacturing: Any nation that loses its manufacturing capacity is doomed to decline. A major factor in the resilience of the German economy (the strongest in Europe) is that country’s industrial might. Likewise, China’s rise is based on industrial capacity, and it’s now poised to beat us out on “green” manufacturing ((high-speed rail, wind turbines and more).  Innovation doesn’t spring full-blown out of some engineer’s head; it requires testing and refinement through production.  Check out the classic study by two distinguished UCB economists, Manufacturing Matters:  The Myth of Post-Industrial Society. Or just read Paul Krugman’s latest column in the NY Times.

    2. West Berkeley industry:  Contrary to your claims, WB currently has the lowest vacancy rate (4%) of all East Bay industrial markets–remarkable in a deep recession–and that distinction (relatively few vacancies) has been a constant for years and years. Even five of the six big “legacy sites” such as the old Macauley Foundry are occupied by businesses. I support the position of West Berkeley Artisanal and Industrial Companies (WeBAIC):  make it easier to develop the six big old sites and keep the industrial protections for the rest of West Berkeley–protections that, as I initially stated, enable would-be “makers” to find affordable space and set up shop.

    3. I live in North Berkeley.  So what?  Does that mean that I shouldn’t have a say in what goes on in other parts of town?  Your councilmember votes on issues that concern only my neighborhood, and my taxes go to pay for services available to you. 

    4. As for putting industrial retention at the top of a campaign for local office: If I ever do run again, remind me not to hire you as my campaign manager.

  8. Wow, indeed!  SZunderwood’s post once again prompts a Pavlovian response from both Bruce Love and Becky O’Malley in that precise sequence which I find rather creepy myself.  I thank Ms. O’Malley for her clarifying her relationship with some other local O’Malleys, but I still wonder if Bruce Love and Thomas Lord are perhaps connected?  Perhaps they have a sort of “William Wilson” relationship to each other?
     
    It’s generally foolish to engage Bruce Lord seriously, but, just to humor him, I will provide a little more grist for your mill.  When I first started working at this biotech company in Berkeley, I had no idea who lived across from the building, nor did I have any specific interest in the matter.  But other employees soon filled me in on the situation.  It seems that the residents across from this building had fought tooth and nail against the biotech company moving in, fearing that it would change the character of the neighborhood, lead to long term “bourgeois” gentrification of the area, raise rents in the area, create more high end commercial demand and also have various “adverse impacts” on their previously idyllic “quality of life.”
     
    All of this is a familiar “shakedown routine” in Berkeley.   The neighbors clamor for more (costly) “mitigation” from the  offending business in  what amounts to hush money/payola.  The zoning battle and some follow-up associated legal battles (when the neighbors claimed that the biotech firm failed to live up to all its agreements), definitely impacted the entire company’s bottom line fairly adversely.  While at that time at least (mid-1990s), relatively abundant VC funds were being wastefully expended on many levels, the NIMBY impediments also played a role in a mass layoff of about 1/3 of the company’s staff at this location in favor of another facility in a different state.
     
    So, while there are many complex forces at work in any businesses rise and fall, the ne’er do well “artist” neighbors definitely extracted their pound of flesh on the company, in conjunction with the city itself.  One could rightfully argue that these grifters have every right to advocate for their self-interest and to protect their little racket.  I don’t dispute that right.  But, at the same time, it’s also the right of those productive members of society who work hard for a living, pay taxes rather than live off the tax payer’s largess, who actually directly create jobs and wealth, to dislodge these “leeches” after they experience how much damage these parasites can wreak. 
     
    Bruce, based on countless posts of yours, I am quite certain which class you fall squarely into…
     

  9.  Only in Thomas Lord’s bizarre world view is the idea of changing zoning in West Berkeley to expand the types of businesses & buildings the same thing as “zoning [artists] out of existence.”

    When they can’t distinguish the difference between change and destruction, it’s no wonder they’re so damn afraid of things like zoning alterations and new libraries.

  10. There are a bunch of Berkeley makers presenting. I tried to suggest that by saying that here are “some” of the Berkeley makers. This could really have been a five-part series. Maybe that’s an idea for the future.  

  11. Wow, some really sophisticated red-baiting!  Maybe Ms. Bronstein is not just a common commie, but a Trotskyist, or even a relative of Trotsky himself (real name Bronstein)?  Is that what you’re suggesting? Is this suggestion within the Guidelines, or should it be flagged for moderation? And before you ask, no, at our house we’re not related to either the Archbishop of Boston or the District Attorney of Alameda County, just because our name is O’Malley. 

  12. Let’s make sure we all understand here …. While at work you used to pass your time spying on a person across the street as they got out of bed and read the paper and drank coffee in their bathrobe.   You used to peer at them, unobserved, from your “bird’s eye view” perch.  You studied their routines and rolled them around in your mind.  It’s unclear whether you were using binoculars or your naked eyes but your observations are detailed either way.    You were offended that the person appeared to be relaxed and acting without a sense of urgency.   Reading the paper.  Drinking coffee.  “Putzing about.”  You couldn’t figure out how they lived like that unless, somehow, it was by ripping you off.  Therefore such people should be zoned out of existence.   None of this is creepy stalker behavior on your part because you have up your sleeve a wise-ass remark linking Zelda Bronstein to Leo Trotsky.    And your observations of that loft-dwelling obsession of yours are, we are to understand, “the story” about West Berkeley zoning.   Got it.

  13. “Caviar Communists”.  I love the phrase.  A little hyperbolic, but amusing nonetheless. 
     
    I once worked at a biotechnology company in West Berkeley whose offices fronted one of these specially designated artist studio lofts across the street.  My office had a bird’s eye view of several such lofts which, at least from the large picture windows looked quite spacious, plush and well-appointed.  Usually around 11am or later, I could see the “artist” emerging into the living space in a bathrobe.  Then, kick back and leisurely read the paper and sip some Java.  After I returned from lunch, the “artist” was generally still putzing around the studio in his bathrobe doing bubkis.  Maybe artistic inspiration struck later after normal work hours?  A feverish midnight hour spent painting a canvas or molding a sculpture.  The sort of rarified cultural genius my tax dollars and our city zoning ordinances were enabling?
     
    Oh, apropos of “Caviar Communists”, I was always curious if Ms. Bronstein is a known relative of Lev Davidovich Bronstein?  When she was running for mayor she canvassed our house, but I forgot to ask her then.
     

  14. Jarad01, you claim:

    Yes Zelda, manufacturing of the type WB is zoned for is “yesterday.”

    I don’t see the slightest bit of evidence for that.   A lot of people are looking at the direction technology is taking us these days and coming to the opposite conclusion:  a resurgence of light manufacturing is in evidence already and is likely to be a growth industry.   West Berkeley’s steady course, until recent changes, looks very wise in hindsight!   The several light industrial uses we have there are doing well and employing a lot of people.  Zelda et al. did a good job, if you ask me.

    Is that “zoned for yesterday” bit just something you heard / believe on faith or do you have some reason to believe it?    Currently, the real estate market for the kinds of stuff the West Berkeley changes envision is pretty lousy in the East Bay and the vacancy rate around the entire bay area isn’t encouraging.   Why should Berkeley rush to build the kind of buildings that were in high demand in the dot-com era?   I think you’re the one trying to zone for “yesterday”.

  15.  yeah i see this is a former candidate for mayor. no wonder she goe sto all the
    meetings. most people who are “working class” don’t have time to go to meetings
    after a 50 hour week. maybe the artisans do have the spare time. having a
    grandfathe that worked at the colgate plant for decades i can say there is
    nothing more that he would like to see than his grandchildren working in the
    same plant in a safe office environment. 

  16. Hi, Jarad:  I’d love to know who all those “caviar communists” might be.  Names, please? In any case, the changes being pushed by the Bates administration are opposed by plenty of West Berkeley residents and businesses–as you’d know if you’d attended meetings of the planning commission and the city council. Instead of blathering about “change,” how about responding directly to my observation that it’s only the zoning protections for industry that have enabled small and medium manufacturers to start and stay in West Berkeley? Or do you think that manufacturing is so yesterday? 

  17.   i agree. the middle class factory jobs of the 21st century are in tech offices.
    Not some retired person from the hills running a art studio that does not make a
    profit. channel some job core programs so that berkeley kids can get tech
    training at berkeley high and follow that up with a tech job in R&D offices
    in west berkeley and it is win win.

  18.   “Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson and Autodesk CEO Carl Bass waxed eloquent of the coming shift to viable, small-scale manufacturing, and about the potential of under-utilized space in West Berkeley.”  It would be interesting to know exactly what Anderson and Bass mean by “under-utilized space in West Berkeley.”  That’s the same rhetoric being bandied about by the Bates administration and the city’s planning staff in support of removing protections for West Berkeley industry. In fact, it’s only thanks to those protections that Berkeley still has a demonstrably viable industrial sector almost entirely composed, by the way, of small and medium-sized businesses. Remove those protections, and rents will soar to heights way above the reach of industrial tenants. The council majority has already approved the unlimited conversion of warehouse and wholesaling space to R & D.