Maker Faire and the Growth of the Maker Movement

From the weird to the wonderful, Maker Faire has it all. (Photo courtesy of SparkFun Electronics)
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If you’d like to get a sense of the boundless creativity of your fellow humans, go visit your local Maker Faire and marvel at cool stuff like robots, flame-spewing dragons, and solar-powered mechanical sculptures created by enthusiastic amateurs from all walks of life.

A Maker Faire is an event created by Make magazine to “"celebrate arts, crafts, engineering, science projects and the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset.” According to the Maker Faire web site, a Maker Faire “gathers together tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, food artisans, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, artists, students, and commercial exhibitors.”

From its inception in 2006, it is now a  a global phenomenon. In 2014, there were 131 Maker Faires, including events in the U.S., Korea, Italy, U.K., Spain, Mexico, Turkey, Japan, Peru, Columbia, Israel, Canada, Australia, Kenya, India, and elsewhere. 

Faires range in size from Mini Maker Faires, which are smaller-scale community-based events; “featured” Faires produced in collaboration with the parent organization; and two Flagship Faires, held in the Bay Area in May and New York in September. In 2015, the Bay Area event attracted over 130,000 attendees who came to see more than 900 “Makers.”

Even President Obama is getting on board, hosting the first White House Maker Faire in June 2014, following up with a Week Of Making a year later. 

Tech sponsors include Atmel, Microchip, Freescale, Intel, Microsoft and Google, as well as other big names such as Disney and NASA. 

Maker Faire is perhaps the most visible manifestation of a larger cultural trend—a return to the “do-it yourself” (DIY) spirit that used to be common in earlier generations, where skills such as carpentry, car mechanics, and electrical repair were passed on from one generation to the next.

The Maker Ecosystem

In a sense, “maker” is a new word for an age-old passion. A maker can be broadly defined as someone who derives identity and meaning from the act of creation. As such, it encompasses generations of jewelry makers, artists, furniture builders, scrap-bookers, car customizers, tinkerers, hobbyists, and inventors of all stripes.

Importantly—when it comes to technology—to be a maker you don’t have to be a trained engineer. In the past, this wasn’t unusual. Thomas Edison was home-schooled and never attended college. What distinguishes contemporary makers from the inventors and DIY-ers of other eras is the ready exchange of information via the Internet, the power afforded by modern technologies, and a globalized economy giving makers access to sophisticated materials and parts worldwide. 

At the design stage, downloadable digital software allows makers to design, model, and engineer their creations, while also shortening the learning curve. Forums, social networks, and video publishing sites allow them to form communities and ask questions, collaborate, share their results, and continually improve their designs. 

To learn new hands-on skills, makerspaces, also called hackerspaces, offer expertise, resources and tools to learn about, build, or hack technology. For industrial machines, Tech Shop provides members access to design software and a wide range of equipment including milling machines, lathes, laser cutters, sheet metal equipment, welding equipment, woodworking equipment, 3-D printers, and CNC vinyl cutters.

To set up a small-scale production capability, open-source 3-D printers allow makers to construct their own prototypes or manufacture low-volume production runs. 

Even traditional industrial machines have their Maker versions. For example, the Othermill is a compact desktop CNC mill that sells for around $2,200. It works on a variety of materials, including metals, woods, waxes, plastics, and printed circuit boards. Pocket change? Perhaps not, but a more traditional entry-level machine can cost more than $50,000.

To get a project off the ground, crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo offer sources of seed capital. Finally, e-commerce distribution services such as Etsy and Quirky help makers commercialize their creations. 

1115 IoT Growth of the Maker In Article 2

Figure 2: There is now a broad and deep ecosystem for Makers that runs from self-education through design to production and sale.. (Source: Deloitte University Press)

The Rise of Open-Source Hardware

The open-source movement in software has garnered most of the attention, but open-source hardware opens the door for embryonic makers by allowing them to get started very quickly with a ready-made and easily customizable development platform. With design and technical specifications available online, hardware developers can modify existing hardware and do rapid prototyping and small-scale production runs. 

Arduino was the first open-source hardware project but required that users obtain a license to use the Arduino name. The Arduino UNO R3 is a popular entry-level board based on Atmel’s 8-bit Atmega328. The RISC-based AT328 has 32 kB flash, 2 kB RAM, 1 kB EEPROM, 14 digital I/O pins; six can be used as PWM outputs. Other features include six analog inputs, 16 MHz clock speed, a USB interface, and an ICSP header for in-circuit programming.

The dynamics of open-source hardware are still evolving. Since the rise of reconfigurable programmable logic devices, sharing of logic designs has been a form of open-source hardware. Instead of the schematics, hardware description language (HDL) code is shared. HDL descriptions are commonly used to set up system-on-a-chip (SoC) systems either in field-programmable gate arrays (FPGA) or directly in application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) designs.  

The Engineering Community Takes Notice

The growth of the Maker movement hasn’t gone unnoticed by the mainstream engineering community. Not only are working engineers also Makers in their spare time, but companies are actively supporting Maker Faires because they realize that encouraging the Maker spirit in the young can lead to future top employees. 

Managers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), for example, conducted an analysis of their own retiring engineers; they found out that the best problem-solvers were those who as kids had taken apart clocks to see how they worked, made soapbox derby racers, built hi-fi stereos, or fixed appliances.

Being a Maker could even help your kids get into one of the world’s top engineering schools. MIT is promoting a new Maker Portfolio supplement on the MIT Admissions web site that will provide a structured way for students to submit information about Maker projects.

Kids not quite ready for MIT? Maker Ed (Vision: “Every Child a Maker”) is a non-profit organization that aims to create opportunities for young people to develop confidence, creativity, and interest in science, technology, engineering, math, art, and learning as a whole through making.

The takeaway from all this? Ordinary people now have access to the tools and resources needed to create amazing things and realize their ideas without an engineering degree. The results are astonishing—a whole new set of devices and creations that will impact our world. 

At Arrow, we encourage every person to try and see their ideas put into reality. Get started by browsing through hundreds of thousands of parts. Who knows where your imagination will take you?

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