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3D printers, cardboard and a giant robot: Omar-Pierre Soubra on the magic of Maker Faire

Cape Town recently hosted its very first Maker Faire Cape Town. Calling those involved makers, the event saw some 4 000 attendants and over 40 different exhibitors over the weekend, which is a good number for Cape Town.

It took place at the Lookout in the V&A Waterfront. The makers showcased a variety of 3D printers, electronics, artwork, and all manner of things created by the exhibitionists. Some of the exhibitions included Arduino Cape Townthe Cardboard Challenge, and a gigantic robot.

Besides food stalls outside, nothing at the stands was for sale. This allows the event to be an experience and not a flea market.

Read more: DIY geek-fest Maker Faire comes to Cape Town this August

Sketchup maker evangelist and director at Trimble, Omar-Pierre Soubra, the man who made the event possible, says:

The Maker Conference and Maker Faire helped show the world that Cape Town is a Maker city and will bring the Maker community together. Next year will be bigger and better and I can’t wait to come back!

Maker Faire Cape Town’s primary sponsor, Trimble, became involved a year and a half ago. While working on a project called Wiki House — an open source housing and development project — Soubra and his team managed to assemble one of these over a day and a half at a Maker Faire in the US. This is when Trimble’s involvement started.

Soubra recounts a conversation with the company’s vice president, Bryn Fosburgh, who showed interest in the event. He said, “We should have a Maker Faire. Oh, we’ll organise one for you for the first year.”

Soubra later received a called from Fosburgh saying, “We are making a Maker Faire in Cape Town.” At the time, Cape Town was the World Design Capital and Trimble has a division in the city.

Omar 2 Maker

He got involved with the community, which consisted of makers, designers, and people doing all of creative things. That is when he discovered Africa Burn and its community of makers. According to Soubra, “A lot of the beautiful structures you see in the San Franciso, which is the largest one [Maker Faire] in the world, with 135-145 000 people, have a lot of structures from Africa Burn.”

It was a fun job to really get that faire going and we are finally there after 10 to 12 months. It’s an amazing feeling. I fell in love with Cape Town. And everyone who comes here falls in love with Cape Town, right? That was the easy part.

Read more: Why South Africa really needs to embrace the Maker Movement

Soubra says a lot of South African parents want their children to be lawyers, or marketers, and those are worlds that do not include making things with their hands. He says we need to find the right balance with that and making things, and that making things helps to create an economy and solve social problems.

He likens school to labor in the sense that being told something isn’t fun. With the Maker Faire, children can be shown different concepts, such as science, geometry, hydraulics, programming, and how all of these things connect together.

One example Soubra gives is the Trimble GCS900 bulldozer. The machine has two GPS units on poles, which receive signals to control the blade when constructing roads. It acts exactly the way the designer has intended. Children are more receptive if you tell them it’s the largest 3D printer around and “uses signals from outer space.” These concepts are express to an entire world and he is sure children in New York see the bulldozer on the road and remember it from a previous Maker Faire.

Read more: BRCK founders embark on epic roadtrip to promote African connectivity

Innovation and creativity is something the Maker Faire aims to show off. One example is that of the ebola crisis. During it, a movement called Makers Against Ebola started and consisted of doctors, an engineer, and a wedding dress designer. Together, they created the second generation of protective suit worn when handling the virus. “Whoever thought that a wedding dressmaker would be involved with that. That is what you see,” he says.

That’s what you’ll find here and that’s why it is so hard to define what a Maker Faire is unless you come and say “How does that all fit together?” From an external perspective it’s difficult to understand, but when you see these things getting together you see the magic from your point of view.

When talking about South Africans as makers, Soubra says, “They are unique because I call them Africans. It’s Afri-Cans. It’s a common play, but the thing you get to experience. I’m glad I’ve been immersed in it [the culture] for the past 10 to 12 months.”

His passion shines through with Maker Faire. “I can hear science here and see people playing with cardboard. I can see smiles everywhere. Beautiful people just smiling. I’m sure if I sit outside right now and take a chair I would see smiles and kids and people talking ot each other about this crazy thing,” says Soubra.

While this wasn’t the first time South Africa has had a Maker Faire, it won’t be the last, either. The next Maker Faire Cape Town will take place on 26 to 28 August 2016. It is set to be much larger than the previous one and will rival that of other international Maker Faire expos.

Author | Graham van der Made: Staff Reporter

Graham van der Made: Staff Reporter
Graham started out as an electronics manager at Take2 Home Entertainment and went on to spend a further ten years in the South African ecommerce industry. During this time, Graham founded and managed an online geek and hobby shop. He has always had a passion for writing and has... More