If you haven’t heard of “The Maker Scene” just yet, you’re not alone. It’s a small, but rapidly expanding group, and exceedingly dynamic. In fact, in many ways, “The Makers” are on the bleeding edge of technological innovation.
The Makers have their roots in both hacking subculture and the DIY movement. They rely on an increasingly complex array of tools which they use to create virtually anything.
If Maker subculture can be said to have a father, that father is Neil Gershenfeld, who is a professor at MIT. Among other things, Doctor Gershenfeld teaches a class called “How To Make (Almost) Anything!” Good luck getting in though – at last count, there was a two year waiting period. Can you imagine? A class so popular that students are lining up to take it!
True to his word, once in the class, Dr. Gershenfeld outlines how to build a “FabLab,” which is short for Fabrication Laboratory. MIT, of course, has a top of the line FabLab which his students make use of over the course of the class, but the FabLab machine list is on MIT’s website for the world to see. The world HAS seen, and found it very much to their liking.
So much so that FabLabs are popping up all over the world, and Makers are gravitating to them in droves.
Of course, you don’t have to be a member of a big, top of the line FabLab to be a Maker. Many people have smaller, personalized Maker Spaces in their homes or garages. All you really need to get started is a basic set of tools, a 3d printer, and a laser cutter. Armed with just those things, you can make an astonishing array of practical goods.
Your options expand many times over if you add things like a CNC mill, a mini-mill for making circuit boards, and the like. If you’re willing to spend the time and money to assemble the “right” tool set, you actually can make virtually anything from a space about the size of a two-car garage.
Needless to say, the idea of being able to do that has drawn lots of attention from do-it-yourselfers, who love the notion that you can make totally customized parts to assemble any project you happen to be working on, and that is, in fact, a major reason why the movement is attracting such attention.
These days, we live in an increasingly “disposable” world. Just about everything that gets made, bought and sold is designed for the short term. When it wears out, you just toss it in the garbage and buy a new one.
Makers don’t do that. They incorporate a lot of artistry in their designs and build things to last, which is another reason they’re drawing so much interest and attention from the DIY crowd, since they share a common mindset. Makers use a very different set of tools, but tend to be very much on the same page with mainstream DIY. Odds are that the day will come when the two groups are virtually indistinguishable. Who knows? We may all wind up being Makers in the not too distant future!