"I was a graphic artist" says master modder Ben Heck. This hacking expert got into making as a hobby thanks to a library of items available at his job. With the 3D printing boom, it's now easier than ever for hobbyists and tech enthusiasts to design and prototype ideas on a small scale without the need for expensive manufacturing. Thanks to the DIY movement, a community has blossomed for makers, offering support and inspiration to keep the ideas and new devices flowing. So how does one get started tweaking electronics and building rockets? That's precisely what a panel of expert makers tackled on stage at Expand NY this weekend.
In a time where we have control over very little of what goes on in the world, Make Magazine Editor-in-Chief Mark Frauenfelder sees the maker space as something folks can actually craft themselves. "It's a powerful thing" he said. "People are seeing how the world works. They can now make things that look like they've come out of a major electronics company." With the advances in desktop manufacturing, this can all be done from the comforts of a home workshop. littleBits CEO Ayah Bdeir sees growth of the maker movement as a way to change dynamics in the world of tech at a time when everyone is on edge about how fast things are moving. Thanks to Google Now poking around our emails and iPhones scanning our fingerprints to unlock, more tech is being packed into devices that is aware of our habits and activities. "I think it's our duty to take ownership of technology before it takes control of us," she said. And in turn, this participation makes for better consumers that are more informed about what makes that new smartphone they're eyeing either a compelling buy or a gadget to be avoided.
Bdeir always wanted to be a designer. In fact, the first iteration of the product that she would eventually bring to market was originally a prototyping tool for an industrial design studio. Pretty soon, she was getting orders from all over the globe. She wanted "people to be able to use electronics in a creative way." Now, the snappable blocks allow folks with zero knowledge to create working circuits and, most recently, synthesizers. Bdeir and the rest of her team are very deliberate about making electronics accessible to those of all skill levels. And there's no programming involved, so there's no need to connect to a computer to program code in order for creations to work. "When they realize that they made that happen, you can see in their eyes that their minds have changed."
There's also that community aspect. "Getting people involved has shot up the innovation curve and information bank" said Frauenfelder. Places like MakerBot's Thingiverse are offering ideas and a jumping-off point for those interested in 3D printing at all levels. Once you get comfortable, you'll raise the bar for yourself to do more and get better. "People find a degree of customization that they're comfortable with," he continued. So even if you're just printing out templates pulled from an online bank, you're still experiencing how the items are constructed and developing a general knowledge of the materials. In turn, this -- as simple as it seems -- fosters an awareness and appreciation for the tech world around us all. It's like Frauenfelder said: "You don't really own it unless you understand it and make it yourself."
[Photo credit: Craig Barritt/Getty Images]