By Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman/JNS.org
The entrance to Jerusalem’s Sacher Park was transformed from April 25-27 by a fire-breathing robotic dragon, which flailed its arms and attempted to take flight. The robot, a signature feature at Jerusalem’s first-ever “Geek Picnic,” was one of more than 150 scientific amusements available for the public to experience.
This particular dragon was designed by students from Moscow’s Art Industrial Institute in conjunction with the Flacon design factory, said Anatasia Shaminer, a student who helped facilitate the display. Children attending the Geek Picnic—modeled after Eastern Europe’s open-air festival dedicated to popular science, modern technology, science, and art—were able to board the robot dragon, stand beside a Russian Air Force pilot, and learn to control the machine, whose pilot’s chair was made from a former Russian fighter jet.
2016 marked the first time that the Geek Picnic took place outside of the former Soviet Union.
Carmi Wurtman — owner of 2BVibes Productions, the company that licensed the rights for the festival and leveraged the talents of 30 staff members over the course of two years to bring the Geek Picnic to the Holy Land—said that for five years, he had been eyeing the event as one that would “work well with Israel’s DNA.”
“It’s a smart event,” Wurtman told JNS.org. “It’s for adults and children—it’s rare that kids and parents can be happy going somewhere together.”
At Sacher Park, attendees were able to engage in science workshops and explore new technologies with their own hands. Science, technology, and art tents (with narration mostly in English) took participants into innovators’ worlds, exploring topics ranging from bionics to performing arts to quantum physics.
Tamar Greenberg of Rishon LeZion displayed her work using sewable electronic pieces in traditional women’s handcrafts. The sewable electronic modules — including a small programmable computer called a Lilypad Arduino – can be stitched together with conductive thread to create interactive garments and accessories.
“My mission in life is to promote science and technology for girls, combined with traditional women’s handcrafts,” Greenberg said. “Girls like to make something useful. Through sewing and handcrafts, they can learn math, science, chemistry, and even how to code.”
Greenberg’s colorful snake squirmed across the table for children to touch and feel. It was made through a simple computer code and from colorful, recycled plastic grocery bags as well as Lilypad computer pieces.
The Israeli Google Lunar X Prize team had a tent at the Geek Picnic to display their work towards landing the first Israeli spacecraft on the moon. At another booth, Mor Yahav explained the art of 3D printing.
“You pour the mixture into a cup that is positioned above the printer,” he said while an edible printed pancake slowly appeared. “An internal pump flows the mixture down from the cup into the syringe and the syringe draws the design. It is being made in a pan. The pan is hot, so the pancake cooks while it is being made.”
Nearby, a similar booth manned by distributors from 3D Printing Center Israel had staffers creating 3D-printed plastic prototypes. Keter, a market leader in plastic home and outdoor storage solutions, purchased one of the machines, according to booth personnel. Keter uses the machine to create prototypes before mass production. Whereas in the past it would take days or months and significant funds to make a prototype, with plastic printing materials cost around 100 NIS ($26.75) per kilogram and the machine costs about 60 NIS ($13.40) per hour to work. It takes only about five hours from the time the design is inputted until the prototype is complete.
For Rivky Braun and her children, who were visiting Israel from Brooklyn, the highlight exhibit was the “Hand of Man” machine, which allowed selected onlookers to crush cars like soda cans. The Hand of Man is an interactive sculpture comprised of a 26-foot-long hydraulically actuated human hand and forearm, which is capable of picking up and crushing cars, and a “glove” device that controls it. Any movement by the person controlling the glove is reproduced by the large robotic hand.
Other child attendees of the Geek Picnic found favor in the non-Newtonian fluid display, where they could walk across a shallow pond made of corn starch and water. The mixture became more viscous (thicker) when force was applied—meaning that when children ran, their feet stayed on top of the mixture. When they simply put their hands inside the fluid, they could slide them through as easily as if it were pure water.
The Geek Picnic also included drone racing, a gaming zone with some unavailable-to-the-public activities, science experiments, and car-style missiles.
“The whole idea is to do and touch and feel and participate,” said 2BVibes Productions’s Wurtman, whose spokesperson noted that about 40,000 people attended the three-day event. “We took the licensing for 10 years. I am hoping this will become a landmark event in Israel.”
CAP: The robotic dragon at Jerusalem’s Geek Picnic. Photo credit: Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman.