DETROIT, Mich. - A collection of about 100 inventive types, exhibitors and journalists gathered here July 29 for the Detroit Can Do Camp, the first engagement with the Maker Faire organization at the city's historic Eastern Market.

All eyes are now on Maker Faire Detroit, which takes place this weekend, July 31-Aug. 1, at The Henry Ford in nearby Dearborn. Exhibitors are busy setting up displays for the event that organizers hope will draw 20,000 Detroit area families, inventors and do-it-yourself creative people.

"We're hoping for 20,000," said Dale Dougherty one of the founders of Maker Faire. "It looks like we'll have a good day, weatherwise."

This is the first venture outside of California for Maker Faire, Dougherty added.

"The first year we held Maker Faire in San Mateo we had 20,000 attend, so that's a good number for us here."

The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command is the sole government agency taking part in Maker Faire Detroit. RDECOM is being supported by members of its research centers and labs from across the country.

The RDECOM exhibit, called the Army Technology Zone, will feature robots, the latest Army vehicles and Sgt. Star, a smooth-talking, three-dimensional avatar. Army Soldiers and Civilians manning the displays will focus on educational outreach when they talk to visitors at the exhibit. They will address the importance of science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and highlight Army and Department of Defense scholarship programs.

The Can Do Camp featured an afternoon panel discussion with five prominent members of the local technology community addressing a range of topics.

Panel members included Dr. Grace Bochenek, director of the U.S. Army's Tank, Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, Dr. Gerhard Schmidt from Ford Motor Company, Dr. Roger Shulzt from the Institute of Advanced Vehicle Systems, Aaron Crumm from Adaptive Materials, and Ken Rogers from Automation Alley.

Paul Skalny from the U.S. Army National Automotive Center served as moderator and provided introductory remarks.

The group focused on the ability their organizations have to capture innovative ideas from wherever they originate, incorporate them into the workplace, and share them in a collaborative work environment.

"It's important to keep the innovative spirit alive," Skalny said as the discussion began.

Bochenek was asked how her organization creates and innovates.

"There's exploration involved, taking a little risk, I suppose, when looking at opportunities," she said.

"We in the Army have been on a great push, as you know, to innovate for our Warfighters. And we're seeing results, with items like advanced radar and robots and in other areas as well.

"There are lots of light bulbs going on in the Army, " she continued, "and we're much better at getting the ideas to the great minds at RDECOM's Army Research Labs and research centers, taking innovations to the next level for development."

As the discussion moved to a view of the future, Bochenek offered a glimpse of what computational power will be like in 10 to 15 years.

"By that time, computer chips will be able to do what our brains can do," she said. "It's coming! Autonomous transportation will be available, which will free us to assimilate more information, read even more email, and eliminate mundane, boring stuff from our lives.

"There will be big changes in the way we engage," she said. "We will no longer have display screens,. Our view of data will be on our retinas.

"These technologies are already there, and there will be a ripple through the industry when they come to fruition," Bochenek said.

She added that RDECOM and TARDEC are seeing great success in energy efficiencies, robotics and new materials.

"If we can reduce the weight a Soldier carries by 20 percent, that's tremendously significant," she said. "We need to bring one good idea forward as fast as we can, and partner with universities and industry as we do.

"Don't lose sight of the future," Bochenek concluded, "because it will be here before you know it."