Bionic arms, dragon robot are hit at Jerusalem event
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Bionic arms, dragon robot are hit at Jerusalem event

Israeli capital is first foreign city to host the Geek PicNic outdoor science fair, established in Russia in 2011

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Visitors watch the dragon robot at the Geek PicNic held in Jerusalem during Passover 2016. (screen capture: YouTube)
Visitors watch the dragon robot at the Geek PicNic held in Jerusalem during Passover 2016. (screen capture: YouTube)

Tech lovers and nerds were in their element Tuesday, as the second day of a three-day outdoor science and technology fair in Jerusalem brought them into close contact with dragon robots and bionic arms.

Geek PicNic, an event exported from Russia for the first time in its five-year history, has been brought to Israel’s capital for Passover, giving parents and kids visiting Sacher Park a novel way to fill at least some of the seven-day holiday.

Event-goers swarmed around a massive metal dragon robot made in Russia and brought by ship to Israel, waited in line at the American-made “Hand of Man” to slip their hand into a robotic glove that crushed waiting cars, and sat on the grass in front of the stage, listening to a TED-style talk by a scientist in a white coat.

It’s the first time the Russian festival, established by a handful of students in St. Petersburg in 2011, and later held in Moscow as well, has ever taken place abroad.

Israel was chosen because it’s a place where startups and technology meet, and it made sense “philosophically,” said Nick Goreley, one of the original founders present at Geek PicNic Jerusalem

The organizers also sought a location that would have summery weather in the springtime, said Goreley, on a day that saw temperatures soar to 93° Fahrenheit as Israel was hit by a heatwave.

It was producer Carmi Wurtman, a Jerusalem concert promoter who brings live shows and festivals to the capital, who thought Geek PicNic would be a good match for Jerusalem.

After meeting with Goreley, Wurtman visited his first Geek PicNic in Moscow and agreed to host the event in Jerusalem, getting the municipality to co-sponsor what he hopes will become an annual event.

That’s an enticing thought for Goreley, he said.

The 26-year-old Russian entrepreneur said he and his partners came up with the first Geek Picnic in 2011, “just for fun.” They were more focused their second year and drew around 7,000 visitors with master classes and TED-style lectures, as well as a job fair for programmers. They receive no government support for the festival, said Goreley.

The grounds of Jerusalem's Sacher Park covered with tents for the Geek PicNic, held on April 25-27, 2016 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
The grounds of Jerusalem’s Sacher Park covered with tents for the Geek PicNic, held on April 25-27, 2016 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

The festival, said Wurtman, evokes elements of the annual American desert events of Burning Man and Coachella, bringing together creative types and iconoclasts from the technology and science worlds.

Sacher Park was divided into areas of interest, such as drones, space, bionic parts and 3D printing, and offered a geek paradise in the form of a market selling items such as Star Wars and The Hobbit memorabilia, thought games and science experiment kits. There was also a gaming area and a fashion market that explored at how technology is changing the clothing industry.

There were morning and evening events, with guests like “bionic” drummer Jason Barnes, who performs with his robotic arm, an electric lightning show, and a pair of warriors who dueled each other with lightning bolts.

“It’s the Midburn of tech events,” said Wurtman, referring to the Israeli version of Nevada’s Burning Man, held each June in the Negev Desert.

According to Wurtman, over 35,000 tickets were sold for the three-day festival, although everyone present Tuesday afternoon was from Intel Israel, a sponsor of the event.

The best part of the event, said Wurtman, is the connections made between the different creators, who came from Israel, the US and Europe.

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