By Caleb Kraft
At Walsh, we embrace the innate human desire to learn, grow and create, recognizing that it is alive and well among people of all ages and backgrounds. The Makerspace at Walsh will provide the tools, resources and collaboration needed for residents and visitors to actually make stuff, and make friends. Here, Caleb Kraft, Senior Editor of Maker Media, discusses how the Maker Movement is bringing people together to do just that.
We, as humans, have always made things. Our ability to shape our surroundings to make our living situation better, either through tools or shelter is what has brought us so far as a species. Even to this day we consider tool usage and manipulation to be a key identifier of intelligence in other animals.
However, for a period of time, making things has been looked down upon. Important jobs such as welding, cooking, or mechanical services have been relegated to a misinformed ‘amateur’ status, or referenced in a derogatory manner. The assertion that books trump brawn is not only a misnomer, but also an inaccurate assumption that one exists without the other, or that the two cannot equally coexist. While education has rightly maintained its high status among goals passed down to children; the tandem act of making things with one’s hands has somehow, disappointingly, lost favor.
The Maker Movement jump-started a resurgence of the prioritization of people actually making things, not to simply accept products as they are, but to modify and create something personalized. By marrying popular culture, hobby crafts, industrial skills, and scientific exploration, the Maker Movement has somehow taken a foothold and caught people’s attention.
As Senior Editor for Maker Media, my daily life is spent exploring the projects that people are building in their homes, as hobbies and even as small businesses. I have seen some incredible things. I’ve seen flaming sculptures made from scrap metal, towering 40 feet in the air spewing fire that you could feel on your face from 50 feet away. I’ve seen self taught 10- year-old children bring robots from home that would easily rival engineering student’s class projects in university. One of the most interesting things I see though, is the cross pollination that happens when passionate people from different backgrounds gather to make things.
If you come to a Maker Faire or visit a makerspace, you will see passion projects of many bright individuals. You will also likely witness the never-ending cycle of inspiration and collaboration that reaches beyond any skill or educational barriers.
For example, let’s say you are watching a pick-and-place machine operate. These have a small, suction-cup style grabber that can pick up tiny electronic components. This grabber is mounted on a gantry that allows it to be moved anywhere in a predetermined space and set down. These pick-and-place machines are used for assembling batches of small electronics – placing the parts on the PCB before they get soldered permanently to the board. They are an area where we are seeing lots of DIY solutions popping up.
While you’re watching a demonstration of this pick-and-place machine, you hear the person next to you, who grew up on a small farm, comment that this machine would make a perfect farm-bot. In that moment, more often than not, a new concept is formed. The collaboration between these two people will go on to create something that neither of them previously had the skills to complete. This isn’t a purely fictional scenario; it’s something that can be witnessed at any Maker Faire. I’ve personally seen many new projects spawned in this way. In this case, the result would be a CNC gantry that could plant seeds, cut weeds, water plants or even remove pests, such as the FarmBot.
This marriage between industrial labor and geeks isn’t limited to occasional collaborations, as illustrated by items such as the Arduino, that are making a giant impact on who can delve into automation and robotics. This easily accessible microcontroller platform has become so cheap and so well supported by a community of people excited to share how to make things happen, that projects are appearing in places one would never expect. The tools are becoming less and less of a roadblock in taking an idea to prototype.
Let’s say you would like a sculpture that can sense when someone is in front of it, and make a sound. We will assume that you already know how to make a sculpture, but you had previously thought the electronic components were outside your reach. With makers being ever the sharing community, you may find that you could very nearly copy and paste the necessary code to achieve the exact desired outcome without ever necessarily having to understand how to create that code. This kind of open sharing has allowed people to be more cross-disciplined than ever before.
We are also seeing tides flow in the other direction. It isn’t only skilled craftspeople who are learning about new technology. We are also seeing those who are steeped in the latest and greatest electronic design yearning for skills to create heirloom pieces. One nasty byproduct of consumer culture was the decline of individualized, high-quality construction. Most devices look the same; because they were designed to be the most cost efficient construction, not the most individualistic.
This challenge has prompted many makers pouring their lives into the creative pursuit of making new and custom electronics, to seeking the skills to also fabricate custom enclosures and mechanical structures. Maker geeks have literally designed laptops from scratch, finding themselves in the position of wanting to learn woodworking in order to make a beautiful enclosure for their circuits. By working with skilled craftspeople, brainiacs who otherwise focus their crafts on internal structures have been able to achieve some stunning outward design results. In this way, we see that bridging the gap between geekdom and tradecraft is often beneficial, with both parties walking away happily holding a new skill in their mental toolkit.