Geek Picnic, the largest pop-science, tech, and arts festival in Eastern Europe, opened its gates to the Israeli public on Monday, molding science, fantasy, and entertainment together for the first time outside Europe.
As soon as visitors entered the open-air venue at Jerusalem’s Sacher Park, they were greeted by a towering robotic dragon breathing fire, flailing its tale, and attempting to take flight. The only thing perhaps more surprising than the outlandish greeting was the fact that the dragon was operated by a small child.
“Our dragon has been featured in the American and English robotic-fight shows; he is quite popular and friendly. Children always line up for a chance to ‘drive’ it with our help,” Anastasia Shamina, a student from the Moscow Art-Industrial Institute told Tazpit Press Service (TPS).
The Students of the Moscow Art-Industrial Institute have built the robotic dragon using machinery, scrap metal, and parts from a Soviet era Sukhoi fighter jet.
The mechanical dragon was just one of over 150 attractions offered by the festival and appealing to children and adults alike. “While my teenage son is hanging out at the gaming tent, my wife is with the younger ones chasing robots around the park and I am heading to the next drone race,” David Ezra from Haifa told TPS.
Other attractions included high speed drone races, Steampunk art workshops, a Makers’ Market, and off course exhibitions showcasing the latest innovations in the world of technology and applied science. Anything that is geek chic – from robotics to space, science and science fiction, 3d printing, VR, tech breakthroughs, scientific research and the latest and innovations – was open for all to see.
“The Picnic started out in Russia in 2011 as a small gathering of friends just sitting around drinking beer and talking about technology and science-fiction experiments,” Alex Tomkevic, one of the Russian founders of the festival recounted to TPS. “By 2013, it became a big festival and we started selling tickets. It became a major summer event and now we are taking it to an international level.”
Two of the major attractions by the Russian originators were an outdoor man-made lightning show produced from large tesla coils and a giant mechanical arm capable of picking up and crushing a large car. The mechanical arm was operated by attendees of the show with a glove worn on their hand.
Tomkevich explained that Israel and Jerusalem in particular were chosen for the event because “Israel is a startup nation and you can see it here. Jerusalem is a mix of spirituality, history, and technology. In Tel Aviv it would have just been ‘okay,’ but having the festival in Jerusalem has a ‘Wow’ effect.”
The founders of the Geek Picnic found Israel to be not only a unique venue but also to be the source of much of the festival’s talent and attractions. According to Uri Aviv, the festival’s content manager, almost two thirds of the technology featured at the festival is made in Israel by Israelis.
“The Russian producers were very impressed by Israelinology, participants their creativity, and innovation. After this edition of the festival is over, Israelis taking part in the Geek Picnic will go on to Russia in July and present at other places around the world where the Geek Picnic is held,” Carmi Wurtman, the Israeli entrepreneur responsible for bringing behind the Geek Picnic to Jerusalem, told TPS.
“We have a lot of presenters here carefully selected from Israel’s many startups. The picnic features 3D printing, virtual reality and wearable technology all created by young Israeli minds. Our chief academic partner is the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,” Aviv explained.
One such Israeli startup was FilteRisk, which invented a product with possible applications for both civilians and the military. While the FilteRisk started as a project by students from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and the Hebrew University’s Agriculture and Environment Faculty, it has produced clothing that collects water from the environment, filters it, purifies it, and stores it in a hidden pouch for consumption.
“We’ve been working on this project for over a year and created a shirt out of fabric made with nanometric fibers capable of purifying and filtering the water and making it perfectly potable,” Ganit Goldstein, a Bezalel student and FilteRisk partner elaborated.
“We already have a fully functioning prototype and we are now looking for investors and interested parties,” she added.
According to the festival’s content director, Goldstein’s shirt amounts to making sci-fi a reality. “It is very much like a Stillsuit from Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel Dune,” Aviv commented.
Another line between reality and science fiction was blurred at the Geek Picnic by a real ‘cyborg.’ Nigel Ackland, known to be the world’s first person to receive a bionic prosthetic arm, arrived from England as a guest speaker to share his story with the Israeli crowds.
“We all hope that this will not just be a one-time event, but will become an annual event in Jerusalem for another ten years at least,” Carmi Wurtman said.