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As expected, I spent much of the holidays explaining our OpenROV project to my relatives. Much of that discussion involved detailing the maker movement, Maker Faire, Kickstarter, open source hardware, 3D printing. Almost all of the maker infrastructure we’ve utilized is completely new to them, not to mention the foreigness of underwater robotics.

Basically, I told them, we’re living in a golden age for inventors and inventing. That’s all they really needed to know.

My mom decided to challenge my thesis. She shared one of her ideas with me – a vibrating steel wool scrubber (think Sonicare toothbrush meets S.O.S pad) – and asked me what she, someone with no maker experience, could do about her idea. What path should she take?

So yesterday we dove in. We spent the day making, disassembling, and prototyping her idea – trying to find the shortest route from crazy idea to “Hey, this might just work.” This was a great opportunity for me, too. Distilling all the Zero to Maker lessons I learned into one morning with the least likely maker of them all: my mom.

By the end of the morning, we took apart a Sonicare toothbrush as well as an electric nail polish remover and rebuilt them with new steel wool heads. We tried to clean off dirty pots and pans, then went back to refining our device. By the end of the morning, we had a hacked electric toothbrush that worked surprisingly well.

But we didn’t stop there. As I explained to my mom, building and creating is only half of the process. The other half, sharing, is equally important. So we took a few photos of our creation, wrote a description of what we had done, and put her idea on Quirky. Within hours, we had already racked up a few votes, received comments, and revised our idea further.

Regardless of how our project does on Quirky, the entire experience was a success. I had given my mom the maker bug. I showed her how easy it was to take an idea and set the wheels of creation in motion. It flipped the switch for her. After giving her a tour of The Mill near her house in Minnesota (where she plans to take 3D printing classes in the near future), she now has enough information to make (almost) any idea a reality: prototype, share, repeat.

It’s also given the rest of my family an example, including the confidence and know-how, to get the ball rolling on any secret project they’ve been harboring. One of our family friends reported that he had spent the whole day in his garage prototyping his own ideas. He had tried his hand at inventing before and had grown discouraged because of a bad experience with a patent attorney. Now, after seeing The Mill and hearing about Maker Faire, Kickstarter, and 3D printing, he was inspired to get back into it. That’s wonderful!

I also wondered if we could coordinate something like this for reluctant makers all over the country (or world): Take Your Mom (or parent or friend or child) to MAKE Day.

The idea would be to ask a friend, parent, or sibling – someone who’s curious but cautious – what they want to make and then spend a day at a local makerspace trying to make progress on a prototype. It doesn’t have to be total maker immersion, just a glimpse into the possibility. Like the Take Your Child to Work days that sought to give kids a perspective on the world of work, this could be a great way to invite the next swath of makers into the fold.

David Lang

Co-Founder of OpenROV, a community of DIY ocean explorers and makers of low-cost underwater robots. Author of Zero to Maker. And on Twitter!


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