Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rise of the 'maker movement'

Rise of the 'maker movement'

What does 'do-it-yourself' culture mean for the future of development?

The “maker movement” has been around since 2005, and has since spurred "do-it-yourself" or DIY mainstays such as Etsy, Creative Commons and open-source software. Some, however, credit the recent economic slowdown and a growing rejection of mass consumerism with bringing the maker ethic to the mainstream.

3D printers, one of the movement’s most noteworthy developments, can now create everything from buildings to human tissue. With the rise of DIY culture, these machines have become cheap enough for consumer use and could have many implications for nations in early stages of development.

In this episode of The Stream, we talk to Emeka Okafor, co-founder of Maker Faire Africa, and Bre Pettis, CEO and co-founder of MakerBot Industries.

What do you think? Will the “maker movement” and “do it yourself” culture shape the future of development? Send us your thoughts and comments on Facebook or Twitter using hashtag #AJStream.

Here are some social media elements featured in this episode of The Stream:
The maker movement has grown through the spread of real life "makerspaces" or "hackerspaces," which pool resources and provide access to more expensive technology. Each year, Maker Faires are held around the United States, drawing between 50,000 to 100,000 visitors.

The maker movement also complements the spirit of innovation that has been credited to developing countries, particularly in Africa; "jua kali,” Swahili for hot sun, describes the open-air industry of inventors common in many cities. Maker Faire Africa, which is not associated with the American fairs, has been held across the continent in Ghana, Kenya and Egypt.

Although Maker Faire Africa includes the design and craft products found in the US maker movement, it focuses particularly on building hardware to solve local problems. It is described on its website as "a fellowship of creators who believe making is the most authentic form of manufacturing, [which] forges a vigorous middle class." 

Two women are shown below working at Maker Faire 2012, held at the American University of Cairo.

The maker movement aims to be democratic, with an emphasis on the equal connection between the user, the creator, and the product. Most blueprints and basic modeling software are available online free of charge. These "bill of rights" manifestos shown below lay out principles both of restoration and the movement itself.

Dale Dougherty, the founder of MAKE magazine and Maker Faire, talked to The Stream about the maker movement.

Maker-created products frequently combine elements of technology and design, such as this "thinking cap" below that displays brain waves.

3D printers are one of the most popular technologies in the maker movement. Comparisons have been drawn between the maker movement and the hobbyist computer movement during the 1970s that eventually produced Apple and Microsoft. One company, Makerbot, has sold less than 10,000 printers but has already received $10 million in investments. One of the printers appeared on The Stream, shown below.

3D printing has mostly been used to design novelty items on a small scale, but the possibilities for use are growing. Biotechnology companies are already able to make living tissue using the printer. Paired with a 3D scanner that can accurately determine the depth of wounds, the technology could lead to further developments. The US military is studying the possibility of a mobile bioprinter for combat troops.

The 3D printer has other defense possibilities as well. Scientists in the UK have used the printers to make an unmanned aerial vehicle, designed and printed in just a week, that could fly nearly 100 miles per hour. Below is a similar UAV created with a 3D printer.

The maker movement has also found a natural home in agriculture. TED fellow Marcin Jakubowski created the "Global Village Starter Kit," an open source collection of blueprints to create basic farming technology, such as tractors and brick presses, for significantly less than the cost of purchase.

The "personalised manufacturing" espoused by the maker movement has led to predictions of another industrial revolution, or at least a dose of innovation necessary for the faltering American manufacturing industry. Printers can even use cement as their base material, as in this video below. 

A traditional leader of American technology innovation, the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has sought to capitalise on the maker movement as well by providing leaders of the maker movement with grants. Below is a model of the "open source military vehicle," created by DARPA via a social media platform to crowdsource a design for the next generation Humvee. The winning entry was created in just 14 weeks.

MAKE magazine was recently awarded a grant to build "maker spaces" to bring science, technology, engineering and mathematics education to 1,000 high schools in the US. Some in the movement have criticised the program as antithetical to maker principles, as well as questioning the use of defense money for educational purposes. Librarian Fiacre O'Duinn explained some of his concerns to The Stream.

Dale Dougherty responded to the criticism saying, "“There’s a small segment (of the hacker community) that is uncomfortable with the fact that we took DARPA funding to do education work, [but] it's naive to think the world of tech is not engaged with the military on every level and vice versa.” Below, US President Barack Obama tests a young maker's project in action at the White House Science Fair."

3D printers often combine functional design with artistic or musical purposes, as with this printed guitar.

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