Satellites in the shed? TEDGlobal announces the new DIY revolution

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The latest edition of the ideas festival at Edinburgh was abuzz with the ‘maker movement': a phenomenon that aims to take manufacturing out of factories and put it into people’s homes


TEDGlobal’s march of the makers: Manu Prakash demonstrates a microscope that can be printed out on a piece of paper and folded into shape. Photograph: James Duncan Davidson/TED

Once upon a time, if you said you were doing a spot of DIY, everyone would know you’d be doing something involving wobbly ladders, pots of paint and, depending on the decade, either stripping your floors or recarpeting them.

No more. Or at least ladders and pots of paint might still be involved, but the end result could be a aerial drone you’ve built yourself. Or a biotech lab.

Last week’s TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh – the festival known as “Davos for optimists” – shone a light on the DIY revolution – a movement that encompasses items ranging from manufacturing to synthetic biology to medicine. After a decade in which digital technologies have disrupted industries from music to the media, it’s capitalism itself that is now under attack. A decade ago, open-source software revolutionised the internet. Now the idea has entered the realm of physical things: open-source hardware. Why stop at making your own website when you can make your own PC? Or car? Or satellite?

Catarina Mota, a 38-year-old Portuguese PhD student, is typical of the new breed of DIYers, or, as they tend to call themselves, “makers”. She’s a member of a 40-strong “hackerspace” in New York – a co-operative workshop where members share tools such as laser cutters – and develops and makes “smart materials”, ones that can change colour when you touch them or react to voltage. In the three years since she began, the maker movement, fuelled in part by the rapidly decreasing cost of 3D printers – devices that create objects layer by layer out of liquid plastic – has become a phenomenon. Mota’s hackerspace, NYC Resistor, is one of the oldest, but there are now 1,500 in the world.

Like most makers, she’s self-taught. “A lot of people were doing these sorts of things as kids and then stopped,” she said. “As manufactured goods became cheaper, we became consumers. But now everything has changed. We don’t accept things as they are given to us. We make technology work for us. And we can make a living from it: it’s not just a hobby. It has the potential to change economics profoundly. Companies can compete on quality no matter what their size.”

Written By: Carole Cadwalladr
continue to source article at guardian.co.uk

17 COMMENTS

  1. I’m reminded of the movie Brazil from the 80’s. Be completely “off the grid” and the government will be hunting you down. I can see the laws, encouraged by large corporations, as a likely future possibility. I actually like this DIY attitude and hope that it becomes more than just a hobby. Young kids will be creating whatever is equivalent to building a radio in their basement or garage. I think it will become successful in some capacity, but I have doubts that people will get off the couch and turn off the TV.

    If anyone gets those microscope directions, let me know. A paper microscope! I wonder how that works!

  2. Why stop at making your own website when you can make your own PC? Or car? Or satellite?

    Cottage industries are a good idea for some things, but a certain level of naivety is required to think that modern vehicles meeting  safety standards can be cobbled together in a back shed,  (Most home constructors use kits and parts based on manufactured models) – or that a shed can economically meet satellite “clean-room” standards.

  3. Both lasers and 3D printers are already creating extraordinary things but even as their cost  becomes affordable how easy are they to use?  Sounds to me you need to be very computer savvy.

  4. I agree. Many people are naive enough to think that they excel at their field of employment while many are mediocre at best. I personally cannot imagine myself building a car. A spoon, a vase, a small part, OK. I’m pretty creative and handy, but I’d rather spend my time doing other things. I can see a very small group of people latching onto this “technology” and being competent and creative with it. Hard-core creatives and innovators are a minority in our society and these “patterns” would need to be easy, pre-packaged and intuitive for it to hit mainstream.  I can see some kids and hobbyist delving into this, but for the most part people would rather just go out and buy it. 

  5. A decade ago, open-source software revolutionised the internet. Now the
    idea has entered the realm of physical things: open-source hardware. Why
    stop at making your own website when you can make your own PC? Or car?
    Or satellite?

    Software can be created by any skilled person or persons with commercial hardware and skills. It can then copied as much as you like.

    Selling plans is one thing, manufacturing mass-market physical products is a wholly different game, while one-off custom jobs are VERY expensive per unit.

    It sounds like some people are carried away with their own enthusiasm!

  6. “Why stop at making your own website when you can make your own PC? Or car? Or satellite?”

    As a 45 year machinist & engineer who now makes ‘simple’ parts & modifications to ‘factory’ parts for very successful competition cars, the idea that someone can make complete machines in a home garage (or village factory) is naive in the extreme.

    From materials extraction, basic processing & supply, to design, final materials processing, testing, manufacture & assembly (following thousands of legal requirements), making a complex machine (a typical car has 25,000 parts) from scratch is beyond wishful thinking.

    I understand the 3D copiers discussed here, but it’s a very, very long way from making a plastic fork or an ornament to making a metal chassis, rubber tyre, cylinder head – or mother board.

    I applaud those who can find a niche for some ‘simple’ home-made products, but to extrapolate that to incredibly complex machines that take thousands of workers, millions of human hours & billions of dollars to bring to market is not very sensible or reasonable.

  7. Both lasers and 3D printers are already creating extraordinary things but even as their cost becomes affordable how easy are they to use? Sounds to me you need to be very computer savvy.

    I don’t think it’s much harder than 2D printing if you have the printer and computer. You can already download 3D images to feed to a 3D printer. For example unusual Lego bricks.  Of course making your own 3D model on a computer might require some skills.

    Michael

  8. Just as big a revolution as 3D printers might one day be is  the amazing amout of information on how to DIY already available on the internet.  I replaced the battery in my car GPS not long ago following a Youtube video.  Like many such things it isn’t hard if you know what you are doing.

    Michael

  9. I’ve watched in fascination at the things that go on in Makers Faire  and wish that my French grandchildren lived in the world of Geek Dads. There has been nothing in their education to prepare them  to understand even basic electricity let alone arduino.   

  10.  

    There has been nothing in their education to prepare them  to understand even basic electricity let alone arduino.  

    Buy them some bulb holders, batteries, little electric motors along with drive wheels or propellers, switches, bells, buzzers, and a few basic tools. – My children started with this sort of stuff at about 5 or 6 years old. – One of them is now in charge of software development at an IT company.

  11. Your happy story is a perfect example of what people are capable of if given the right encouragement  and guidance at an early age. Your children were lucky to have you as their father.

  12. Realy, to produce a car from scratch single handedly would take years, the experience of more fields of engineering than any one person could learn in their usefull lifetime, and a ton of equipment costing more than a car.stick to woodwork, model engineering is cool if you have the skills,but upscaling becomes very expensive, or else your going to end up using stock parts, reclamied junk, and producing a piece of total junk.I certainly wouldnt want homemade cars endangering myself and others on the roads, the average diyer is a clutz with the aptitude of a ten year old,and ideas he cant attain.I know,have spent years putting their jobs right after they messed up.I am one of the relatively few people who could actualy build up  a reasonable car, and i wouldnt,have far better ways of spending my time, and proper cars are cheap enough.

  13. Like other grumpy types I’m seeing a certain Guardianista gosh-wow about this when really it’s as old as tool use. Caterian Mota’s ‘makers’ are just what were called ‘hackers’ before the meeja got hold of the word and distorted it’s meaning. Industrial civilisation was invented by men in sheds.

    I do like the look of some of the innovations though. I’ve often wished that I had access to a workshop, some tools and some advice, because I’ve had an idea and it makes no sense for me to rush out and buy a load of stuff and try to realise it on my own. It would end in a frustrating waste of time and money.

    The OU is using Arduino in their Senseboard http://www.youtube.com/watch?v…. (Though the Sense programming language is getting a mixed reception.)

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