Out on the Maker Pro frontier — where making meets business — 2013 was an eventful year.
A dozen trends powered by entrepreneurs, investors, and startups pushed the boundaries of the maker movement into new territories.
Here’s a look at them, in no particular order.
2013 was the year that many venture capital firms and angel investors started warming up to hardware startups. Previously, hardware startups were considered difficult, especially compared to cloud-based software ideas. These new entrants joined a few firms, like True Ventures in San Fransciso, that already take an active interest in hardware, apparent from the detail, left, from a recent infographic the firm published on its blog. You can see the entire inforgraphic here.
3D Hubs, left, was one of many new marketplaces that were available to resourceful, ambitious makers. Furniture designers and makers, for example, now have OpenDesk. New online marketplaces for 3D models, from cloud 3D printing services like Shapeways and i.Materialise, are also making it possible for makers to segue into sales.
In June, 3D printing giant Stratasys announced that it was buying maker-focused, consumer 3D printing firm MakerBot for $403 million. That's MakerBot co-founder and CEO Bre Pettis, left, shaking hands with Stratasys CEO David Reis. The deal was the first high-profile example of a traditional manufacturing company buying a funky, consumer-facing maker brand.
Canary, a home security device, raised almost $2 million on Indiegogo last summer, one of many hardware start-ups that found crowdfunding success in 2013. Hardware projects even got their own hardware-specific crowdfunding site: Dragon Innovation. Indiegogo also reached out to the maker crowd, hosting a workshop for hardware startups, publishing a handbook for hardware campaigns, and hiring a hardware liason.
Access to tools improved for Maker Pros with the opening of new makerspaces, hackerspaces, TechShops, and fab labs (Gui Calvalcanti <a href="https://makezine.com/2013/05/22/the-difference-between-hackerspaces-makerspaces-techshops-and-fablabs/">sorted out the names</a> in MAKE). A series of "Make a Makerspace" workshops, like the one at Maker Faire Bay Area, left, spread best practices to new and planned facilities. Let's hope the <a href="https://makezine.com/2013/10/10/brooklyns-3rd-ward-abruptly-closes-shop/">abrupt flame-out</a> of Brooklyn's Third Ward makerspace, amidst a flurry of mismanagement accusations, was also a learning opportunity.
After decades of ceding manufacturing to low cost labor countries like China, makers are starting to at least consider the possibility of making their products in the US. China still has the edge in electronics, due to the ease of sourcing components in meccas like Shenzhen. But for smaller runs (under 5000) it can be cost effective to stay in the US. Organizations like Brooklyn’s Maker’s Row, left, are further closing the gap by providing detailed listings of local manufacturers — and encouragement for local entrepreneurs to build their products closer to home.
That’s Scott N. Miller, a member of the original iRobot Roomba team, reviewing a prototype with the team behind the weather sensor and data startup Subsidence. Miller is the co-founder of Dragon Innovation, a hardware accelerator that’s also a hardware crowdfunder. Miller is also a partner in Bolt, which is a more hands-on accelerator/industrial design shop in downtown Boston. Subsidence was part of the Bolt’s inaugural class of a half dozen or so start-ups. Dragon Innovation and Bolt are part of a new breed of mentorship organizations that are making it less lonely to be a hardware startup. Similar organizations include Highway1, Lemnos Labs, Haxlr8r, and Betaspring.
Open Hardware startups are growing in number. This slide, left, gives a snapshot of a sample of the US open hardware scene as of September, 2013 when Matilde Berchon presented an overview at the Open Hardware Summit 2013 at MIT. The growth of open source hardware, a term that is used to refer to hardware whose design is made publicly available, is good news for hardware entrepreneurs because it facilitates the sharing of knowledge, making it easier to develop new products At the Summit, Berchon said she expects the growth of open source hardware projects to continue.
General Electric partnered with gadget innovator Quirky. Intel announced that it would develop chips to power Arduino boards. Last year’s Maker Faires hosted tents from Radio Shack, Microsoft, and Ford. Giant corporations have discovered the maker movement, with trickle-down effects that extend down to maker pros at the grassroots level.
Hey, that’s not a 3D printer! Exactly. It’s a CNC machine: the Shapeoko 2, released late in 2013. Although 3D printers are the poster children of the Maker Revolution, in 2013 maker pros benefitted from a shopfloor full of other new, essential, accessible manufacturing equipment like the Shapeoko 2. The Handibot from ShopBot, a handheld CNC router, was another relatively inexpensive maker tool that hit the market in 2013. The 3D scanning category also had a bunch of new entrants, at all sorts of price points. 2013 was a good year to be pricing makerspace tools; 2014 promises to be even better.
Lots of activity at the intersection of things and the Internet in 2013: many new protocols, alliances, and devices. But as the year drew to a close, there was a general feeling that this very attractive concept still hasn’t coalesced into something with awesomely powerful consumer appeal. Maybe next year? [image via Popupcity.net]
Hardware entrepreneurs involved with the Internet of Things should take heart from developments over in the robot sector, where 2013 ended with a flurry of activity by major technology companies. First Apple announced that it would be making major investments in robotic manufacturing technologies, then Jeff Bezos wowed a worshipful Charlie Rose on 60 Minutes with tales of drone delivery, then Google announced that it had purchased eight robotic companies, including Boston Dynamics, developer of scrambling quadropeds like the robot on your left. Robotics entrepreneurs are strolling into 2014 with a definite spring in their steps.
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