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MAKER-summit

If you want an overview of the maker movement — where it stands, where it’s going, and who’s making it happen — yesterday’s Maker Summit, held at TechShop Arlington in advance of the National Day of Making and the first White House Maker Faire is a good place to start. It’s not always an easy subject to parse, connected as it is across so many industries and levels, from grassroots to institutional. The President’s Faire is both an opportunity to bring ideas to the President’s attention, and for him to direct the attention of the nation, points out Tom Kalil, deputy director for technology and innovation at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

But there’s an inherent conundrum in the maker movement — at its heart a grassroots endeavor — as it applies to large institutions, and none are bigger than the government. How can the bottom-up nature of the maker movement apply to top-down organizations like industry and government? How can each benefit from the other, asks Kalil? One answer is the groups and small organizations makers form, which can act as liaisons to bodies like NASA, DARPA, NOAA, and universities. City and local government can work with the movement as well.

Of course the government and industry stand to benefit from makers, especially when those makers tackle big problems like space exploration, carbon, and energy. The appliances division of GE is experimenting with a way to use — and use quickly — ideas developed by makers, while paying licensing deals and letting those makers retain the intellectual property, according to Venkat Venkatakrishnan, lead facilitator of the effort, which GE calls FirstBuild.

Tied up in GE’s approach is another inherent quality of the movement: Speed. Rapid prototyping is an important factor when manufacturing becomes more distributed, and more customized. Demand for smaller manufacturing runs will increase as products become more personalized, and that offers different challenges for industry, especially in big companies that spend a great deal on R&D.

Where large enterprises can — and will be forced to — move into automated manufacturing, smaller, maker-based endeavors can reframe both manufacturing and retailing. This will be the next generation of mom and pop stores, says Deloitte’s John Hagel, co-chair of the Center for the Edge.

The ramifications of this kind of manufacturing are huge, and it’s no wonder Obama is interested. This is a catalyst for employment — the bulk of future employment, according Hagel — and for American and local economies.

Underlying it all is education and community.

“This is a deeply interdisciplinary movement,” says Peter Hirshberg, who spoke about the Maker City. He calls maker cities, and the communities that build them, a new frontier, pointing out how much Americans identify with a frontier. “I was looking for maker cities, but I think what I discovered along the way was the renewal of the American dream,” he says.

The impact on education could be just as big. As primary education is pushing STEAM learning, and higher ed is addressing the problem of access to tools, partly through curriculum changes, but also through community collaboration and access to makerspaces. The iterative process many startups engage is finding its way into education, thanks again to rapid prototyping and the willingness to experiment and sometimes fail.

“Our belief is the maker movement is creating the opportunity for all of us, as individuals, to tap in to our creative potential, and realize it in ways that just weren’t feasible in the past, and do it also in communities of practice where we come together,” says Hagel. “We’re not just isolated individuals, but we’re learning from each other through practice.”

Nathan Hurst

Nathan Hurst

Nathan Hurst is an editor at Make. He loves anything having to do with science or bicycling. He tweets as @nathanbhurst.


  • Joe McKay

    When I went to my first Maker Faire in 2007 there was more of a connection to the art community. My favorite projects were;

    Phil Ross’ Chronic Revelator,
    http://philross.org/projects/chronic-revelator/#projects/chronic-revelator/
    Corey Fogel’s Purl Drummer

    and a Loud Objects performance
    http://www.tristanperich.com/#Album/Loud_Objects

    It is telling, that in a recap of the Maker Summit, this aspect of the Maker movement is not mentioned. The “inherent conundrum” is between the grassroots movement and industry, but that the grassroots faction has been increasingly moving away from ideas that are not financially motivated. Maybe this is natural, but I miss the truly challenging weird ideas that creatively misused technology and had no Kickstarter or startup aspirations.

    I think Make needs to re-embrace the arts. Hire a media art curator and collaborate with galleries, artists and collectives in a serious way. Devote some money to it so that artists get fairly compensated.

    • http://mattrichardson.com/ Matt Richardson

      The government’s interest in the maker movement seems focus on education and entrepreneurship since the benefits in those realms are much more pronounced. I’m with you, I hope they don’t forget that making and the arts go hand-in-hand.

      • Joe McKay

        I think that the government’s interest in the Maker movement is as a photo op so the President can look like he cares about a 12 year old with a potato cannon. Maybe I’m a little too cynical, but it feels like we’re a long way from “if you can’t open it you don’t own it”.

  • Terre Tulsiak

    No comments? This I don’t understand. But I also hope that everyone reading this who is interested will be cautious when dealing with government, including educational institutions, but especially with Big Anything. That being said I could not agree more that the entire country, even world, stands to gain from the maker movement.Manufacturing will only be sustainable if it’s as local as the materials, uses recycled material whenever possible,fairly compensated no matter what country it’s done in or exported to, and encouraged as a career by making it ‘respectable’. Making is manufacturing by another name and has the potential to grow creativity at every scale, support the hands of the artist- not replace them, and give people without opportunity to realize their visions in science and technology, a platform and a place to start. By keeping metals, fiber, wood, and other ingredients out of the waste stream we are creating jobs, and improving the environment and living conditions for all. The government agencies charged with economic development as well and the Dept of Education, the Dept of Energy, as well as many others would do well to get together and reap the benefits of a society that cares about innovation, and self sufficiency, rather than being dependent on everyone else for everything. As long as people starting maker spaces don’t look at the ideas as free gems to mine and labor to exploit, but understand open sourcing and sharing as the collaboration it’s meant to be, they should be successful. Ego will get in the way but structure and planning will help. (As long as there aren’t too many meetings about them)

  • http://blogs.uoregon.edu/making Karl Owens

    Where can we get the report mentioned at the beginning of the presentation?