First-ever ‘Geek PicNic’ transforms Jerusalem park into futuristic wonderland

‘It’s an amusement park of technology, science and arts,’ says Israeli organizer

THE DRAGON ROBOT displays its abilities at the capital’s Geek PicNic festival this week. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
THE DRAGON ROBOT displays its abilities at the capital’s Geek PicNic festival this week.
Under the glare of the powerful afternoon sun, a young woman weighing no more than 54 kg., sitting nonchalantly on a chair with her legs crossed, effortlessly lifted a full-sized demolished car using a single hand encased by a glove outfitted with sensors.
A couple hundred meters away, under a white tent, a young tattooed amputee demonstrated the dexterity of the fingers on his sleek bionic black arm made by a 3-D printer, moments before performing a drum solo at a nearby stage.
This was not some scene from a science fiction film about the future. It happened in real time on Tuesday in Jerusalem’s Sacher Park, at the country’s first Geek PicNic.
The Jerusalem event’s organizer, Carmi Wurtman, said he was first approached about the idea of hosting the three-day hi-tech festival in Israel by its Russian founder, Nikolay Gorelyy, while attending a Geek PicNic in Russia two years ago.
“The second I arrived at the event in St. Petersburg, I realized that the DNA for this type of event is perfect for Israel, and especially for Jerusalem,” he said. “It is smart, hi-tech and innovative, which makes Israel a perfect fit.”
“In fact,” Wurtman, a concert and event promoter, continued, “The reason they chose the first global expansion to be in Israel is because they know that, as well.”
According to Wurtman, the spectacle, which is held twice annually in St. Petersburg and Moscow, can best be described as “an amusement park of technology, science and arts.”
“Jerusalem’s event is split up with 25 percent international content and 75 percent local content, with about 150 points of interest [exhibits], many of which are interactive,” he said, noting that over 35,000 visitors attended the event since Monday.
Indeed, the woman lifting up the car with one hand was operating “The Hand of Man,” (aka “The Car Crusher”), an enormous metal lift comprised of five fingers that is attached to the glove she used to manipulate its movements.
“The whole idea is that [the Russians] know that they are going to get a lot of cool content in Israel, which can then be shown in Russia,” said Wurtman, adding that the Jerusalem festival’s top five presenters will be flown to Moscow’s Geek PicNic in June.
“I see that as a really interesting cultural exchange,” he continued.
Gorelyy, who helped lead a press tour of the festival, said he founded Geek PicNic via his company Exponenta in 2011, which has grown exponentially since then.
“At the first event in St. Petersburg, we had just over 1,000 attendees,” he said. “In 2016, we’ve had over 60,000.”
Gorelyy said he chose Israel as the first nation in the world to expand the event to due to its internationally heralded hi-tech pedigree, and large number of Russian residents, despite the considerable cost of transporting tons of equipment.
To accommodate the many attractions, the normally bucolic Sacher Park was transformed into a veritable futuristic Disney Land, shaded with dozens of tents.
Computer engineer Sharon Yaniv traveled from Haifa with his wife, Iris, and three young children to see the new technology, which included several 3-D printers, virtual reality stations, a lightening show, drone races, and lectures about cutting-edge developments.
“It’s very interesting,” said the couple’s 14-year-old daughter, Shir, who noted that she took pride in the high number of Israeli innovators being showcased at the event.
Nearby, while Jason Barnes, a 20-something amputee and musician, demonstrated to a rapt crowd how he uses his bionic arm and hand, Nigel Ackman, 57, who wears a variation of the state-of-the-art prosthetic, said he was the first person in the world to own one.
“This is the Be Bionic Version 3,” he said while gripping a plastic bottle of water with his once severed right arm.
“I had an accident in 2006 and chose amputation in 2007, and this came around in 2011.”
In the interim, Ackman said he experimented with several uncomfortable prosthetics before saving £10,000 to buy his present electrical arm, which uses electrodes attached to the remaining part of his limb to manipulate dozens of sophisticated movements.
Despite the prohibitive cost, he said the bionic appendage has more than paid for itself by eliminating once frequent and expensive doctor’s visits.
Asked if the hand can do anything unusual beyond picking up and dropping items, Ackman smiled mischievously.
“This will surprise you,” he said, while making his hand rotate 360 degrees. Still, Ackman said it is a simple handshake that has most changed his life.
“I see the smiles that I get, and they’re smiles of acceptance,” He said.
“It’s not a throwaway handshake, and people always remember it,” Ackman added.
Sefi Attias from Tikkun Olam Makers, a part of the Reut Group, said that thanks to 3-D printing technology, the bionic arm, which can cost as much as NIS 150,000, is now available for as little as NIS 800. TOM, together with the Google foundation and the Shusterman Foundation, are behind the manufacturing and distribution of the bionic arm and hand for needy recipients.
Attias said he believes it will be another 10 years before normal consumers can access the technology being showcased at the festival.
“This will change the lives of millions of amputees who lost their limbs through war or in terrible accidents,” he said. “It’s revolutionary.”
In the meantime, Elad Appel, a financial analyst for Intel, from Modi’in, who brought his eightmonth- old son David to the event, said he was intrigued by the many innovative attractions.
“I think a lot of people in Israel enjoy innovation,” he said. “Every time you have a conversation with a friend, they have a new idea for an app or new business.”
Moreover, Apple described Israel as an apropos case study of the adage “necessity is the mother of invention.”
“The history of Israel is such that we always had to invent things ourselves,” he said. “The country itself is a sort of invention. So maybe this interest has something to do with our history.”