Gary Poole started the countdown. "Ready?" he asked the competitors. They each nodded. Then he turned to the crowd, "One, two, three ..."
"Fight!" screamed dozens of little kids.
Wheels began flying off and mini saw blades snapped as four robots pummeled each other, each trying to claim victory. The booth, Robot Battles, was one of several at the Chattanooga Mini Maker Faire Saturday afternoon.
Fair director Graham Bredemeyer said the event's goal is to expose children to engineering in a fun way. In addition to robot battles, youngsters could observe a 3D printer or make their own chairs. Everything was focused on kids learning to work with their hands, with demostrations from whittling to cardboard creations to the explosive results of dropping Mentos candies in Diet Cokes.
"It's a place where tinkerers and scientists and engineers, who normally in their day jobs are kind of seen as boring, mundane people, can come and be rock stars for a day," Bredemeyer said. "And to get kids excited in those kind of careers."
This was the second year of the Chattanooga Mini Maker Faire, and the attendance was higher than last year, Bredemeyer said. The number of booths also doubled.
Arguably the most popular booth was Robot Battles. Poole, who began Robot Battles 25 years ago, has seen young people who started their engineering careers building robots become college professors and start their own robotics companies.
"They fell in love with engineering and science," he said.
Kay McKinney read about the event on Facebook and brought her 6-year-old son, Graham. She was pleased there were so many different activities for him. Graham said his favorite part was the screen printing booth, where he got to create a Maker Faire tote bag.
"It was important for him to do something hands-on, and not video games," Kay McKinney said. "There are probably too many video games at our house."
John Alcock has been to other Maker Faires and plans on attending one in Atlanta in a couple of weeks. He wants his kids to get an education they may not realize they're getting because it's fun.
He also thinks people don't understand how to work with their hands anymore. If something breaks, people just go out and buy a replacement. He wants his son and daughter — 8 and 6 years old respectively — to understand how things work.
"People are out here making things," he said.
Alcock's son, Michael — who said he wants to be either a scientist, lawyer or soccer coach when he grows up — said his favorite booth was the Robot Battles. If he were to make a battle robot, his would have a blade for slicing other robots and a giant plow for pushing them out of the way.
"It would have a lot of armor and big wheels, too," he said.
Contact staff writer Evan Hoopfer at email@example.com or @EvanHoopfer on Twitter or 423-757-6731.