As giant puppets roamed through the crowd and robots beeped and bopped from table to table, visitors explored hundreds of exhibits from inventors at Toronto’s annual Maker Festival.

The bustling event attracted hundreds of attendees who strolled from booth to booth checking out the different creations at the Toronto Reference Library on Saturday.

The entirely volunteer-run festival is in its fifth year and aims to celebrate the city’s technology, do-it-yourself, and maker communities.

According to its website, the event hopes to inspire “openness” and a sense of active participation in shaping the world.

The library’s bright, open-air atrium was filled with children designing their own miniature paddle boats, seniors admiring model ships on display and plenty of passerby stopping by a specially made bullet-proof arena to watch robots fight each other.

Maker Festival

The popular robot battle was put on by BotBrawl, Ontario’s robot fighting league, and involved a cage-style event that pitted two small homemade robots against each other in a “fight to the death.” 

Ravi Baboolal, the event’s host, told that the league began three years ago with four builders. Since then, it’s grown in popularity and there are now 25 active builders in the province. 

During Saturday’s tournament, one and three-pound robots rammed, sliced, and flipped each other in the ring as the audience cheered.

Maker Festival

“The crowd’s always great, especially here in Toronto,” Baboolal said. “They’re really responsive, they chant with us, they ‘ooh,’ they ‘ah,’ they scream, they laugh, so we’re pretty happy so far.”

Baboolal said the winning robot’s owner will win a prize and the second-place contender will get something smaller. The third-place finisher will receive a handshake, he said with a laugh.

Another returnee to the festival was RoRo Art's Robin Polfuss. The puppet maker and performer brought her impressive, homemade puppets back to the Maker Festival for a second year.

On Saturday, Polfuss and a few helpers shared nearly a dozen puppets of varying sizes with the crowd. At one point, Polfuss could be seen carefully navigating her way through the crowd with her beloved “Curious Wyrm” wrapped around her shoulders. 

Maker Festival

The gray, furry worm-like creature had piercing yellow eyes and crooked horns and eats stories, according to Polfuss. She created the approximately two-metre long puppet using a pool noodle.

“All of my puppets are made from fabric and wood and wire and recycled bits of things,” she said.

Curious Wyrm and the other puppets, which included a werewolf, a dragon, an insect-like creature, and a handful of faceless figures wearing bow ties, toured the library and interacted with visitors throughout the day.

Maker Festival

One of the more ambitious projects at the festival was an exhibit titled “Connect & Sync: Hands & Hearts” by the technology studio wonderMakr. The agency developed an installation specifically for the event that involved four giant balloons floating high above the crowds in the library’s atrium.

Garrett Reynolds from wonderMakr explained that the coloured balloons were attached to four different podiums stationed below with sensors that monitor participant’s heart rates and temperatures when they’re pressed on. The balloons would move up and down depending on the four user’s heart rates and temperatures, he said. The goal is to have everyone sync their heart rates and temperatures together to move the balloons at once.

“(The sensors) send all their data to a central unit and then the central unit decides what to do with these giant winches and balloons and light-up LEDs to try and show how everybody is in sync,” he said.

Maker Festival

Alice Pelot said they created the exhibit to give people the opportunity to interact with each other and technology simultaneously.

“We were trying to come up with a way to connect people in order to use technology because typically it’s so individualistic,” she said.

Although it was tricky, Pelot said some participants embraced the challenge by running on the spot or meditating in order to sync up their heart rates and temperatures.

Along with robots, puppets, and balloon installations, the Maker Festival also included 3D printed objects, a simulated thunderstorm, a homemade pinball machine, origami artwork, and a blacksmith workshop, among many others. 

The Maker Festival runs from July 7-8 at the Toronto Reference Library.  

Maker Festival