Westporter recounts Italian Makers Faire experience

When I think of Italy, I think of cars like Lamborghini, Ferrari and Fiat. I also think of wine, cheese, artists, architecture and music. Oh, and pizza and gelato.

I was one of 178 delegates from 53 countries invited to attend the sixth annual Maker Faire Rome last weekend. The event attracted some 115,000 people, 700 selected projects and people from 61 different countries. The Faire was billed as a showcase of Italian innovation and creativity.

Each of the seven halls covered themes including artificial intelligence, education, education, aerospace, robotics, electronics, fabrication, the “circular economy,” agriculture, food and manufacturing.

Everything from bicycles made from bamboo to new ways to grow food to high- tech ways to use materials that had previously been discarded — what they call the “circular economy,” this event was a showcase of what Italians are doing.

As with many Italian products, the design of many items showcased added to their attractiveness. A handful of designs caught my attention, including an exercise bicycle that looked truly stunning, rather than the typical look of a parked bicycle. I was also impressed by a ski boot that is light and strong, yet allows the ankle to move when not in a ski, thereby making walking to and from the slopes much easier.

As with many Maker Faires, Maker Faire Rome had the traditional fun and quirky makers, such as a 3D printer that prints using mud, drones and drone racing, people making musical instruments out of odd materials and more.

I quite enjoyed seeing the blend of new versus old as well as new combined with old. There were sensors used to sniff out whether parmesan cheese was really made in Italy, as well as items cut with laser cutters of designs from Leonardo da Vinci.

The first day of the event was on Friday. It was for students to see and experience all of these wonders without the weekend crowds. It was good to see the students engaged in seeing what their fellow Italians are working on, how their studies could be used, what careers may be of interest to them and what universities might be of interest. Representatives from about 25 Italian universities were there showcasing many of their programs.

Saturday and Sunday consisted of mostly families who attended for fun, but there were numerous speakers talking to interested people in more depth about what they are working on.

Maker Faire Rome is produced by the Rome Chamber of Commerce with the help of the Italian Trade Agency. It has a more corporate feel to it than others I’ve seen. It still embodies the energy of other Maker Faires that are so attractive, but Maker Faire Rome is fairly unique in that it includes a major component of business development and showcasing of Italy that I had not seen before.

Maker Faire Rome has struck a good balance between fun and business, making it attractive to a broad audience, while being able to showcase Italy to people around the world at the same time. As one of the newspapers referred to on its front page when talking about this event: Inventiamo il Futuro, (We are) Inventing the Future. Indeed they are.

Mark Mathias is a 35-plus- year information technology executive and a resident of Westport. He can be contacted at livingwithtechnology