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“The deck is stacked against the consumer in the tech world.” – Stacey Higginbotham

Billion Dollar Maker Pros

The “Unicorn Club” is the exclusive group of privately held startups that have grown to be valued at more than $1 billion — a tiny sliver of the tech market, but with ideas driving innovation.

HAX (@hax_co) general partner Benjamin Joffe (@benjaminjoffepointed out this week that the changing demographics of the Unicorn Club reflect the growing stature of hardware startups worldwide. There was only one hardware unicorn in 2013, but this year there were 18, comprised of household names like Desktop Metal (@DesktopMetal) and Carbon3D (@Carbon3D). Two out of three, notably, are based in China.

Maker pros working in garages might not typically set out with the goal of a billion dollar exit. But venture capital firms’ embrace of hardware — coupled with the number of unicorns that have found success by creating devices for makers  — is the latest indicator of the degree to which the maker mindset has come to permeate society as a whole.

Altium Acquires Upverter – And What the Deal Could Mean

Upverter (@upverter), the creator of an acclaimed browser-based design system for schematics and PCBs, announced this week that it has been acquired by Altium (@altium).

That’s interesting for two reasons. First, it’s another sign that intuitive, accessible design software is a hot commodity. Second, it’s an additional example of consolidation in the hardware service market: Avnet (@Avnet) has purchased Dragon Innovation (@dragoninnovate) and Premier Farnell (@premierfarnell); PCH (@PCH_Intl) has bought Lime Lab Inc (@PCHLimeLab) and Fab (@Fab).

Maybe it’s time to ask: are you seeing a handful of constellation-style companies offering suites of complementary maker pro-oriented services? And what will that mean for hobbyists and entrepreneurs? Send us your thoughts: [email protected].

Next Gen Maker Pros

The lineup at Boston Mini Maker Faire (@BosMakerFaire), slated for Sept. 17, looks terrific. One presenter who caught our eye: 13-year-old Max Ash (above), who founded MAX’IS Creations  (@MAXISCreations) to sell whimsical, handcrafted mugs that are dishwasher safe and FDA compliant.

There’ll be other impressive young makers in Boston later this month, from a host of robotics teams and science projects to 8th grader Sam Hoyt, an amputee who creates open source prosthetic limbs for others in need.

Does the Internet of Things Need Consumer Protections?

This week, Stacey Higginbotham (@gigastaceyinvestigated the need for consumer protections on the Internet of Things, from household appliances to self-driving cars. Physically manufactured products, she pointed out, have long been regulated for consumer safety — but the gap between regulation and consumer protection pertaining to the software inside connected devices, and what data it’s allowed to collect, is starting to show.

“Right now, the deck is stacked against the consumer in the tech world,” Higginbotham wrote. “As it invades the analog world, it’s looking increasingly likely the deck may be stacked against consumers there.”

Moment of Zen

Jason Childress is a game developer at Amazon — and the subject of a Maker Spotlight this week by Make: Managing Editor Sophia Smith(@sophiuhcamille) that yielded this wonderful quote:

“I have so many ideas rolling around in my head,” he said, “that eventually I’ll investigate how to Kickstart one of them.”

Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web

Make: contributor Chiara Cecchini (@ClaireCecchiniwrote this week about Barbot (@roboticcocktail) an open source robot that mixes cocktail drinks from a rack of liquors and ingredients. It’s the latest foodtech hack to raise the question: how long before robots and chefs start to share space in commercial kitchens?

Tennessee-based injection molder Tennplasco was having trouble finding skilled workers in the Lafayette area, which is why it bought a robot arm by Rethink Robotics  (@RethinkRobotics). A thoughtful case study looks at how the change affected the small manufacturer.

The Vernadsky Challenge (@vernadsky_ch), which awards funds of up to $75,000 to hardware entrepreneurs, announced its 12 winners this week. Fun fact: its panel of judges this year included former Mythbusters host Jamie Hyneman (@JamieNoTweet).

A team of ex-Googlers who started a venture called Skydio  (@SkydioHQ) are quietly raising funds to build an autonomous drone. It’s a great idea, but a punishing technical problem: it was just last year that Lily Drone  (@lilycollapsed spectacularly after trying to deliver a similar product.

Make:’s new Electronics and Programming Humble Bundle(@humble) is loaded with documentation for maker pros, from all three volumes of The Encyclopedia of Electronic Components to Wearable Electronics and more.

3D printing has revolutionized industrial prototyping and the hobbyist landscape alike. A new roundup looks at ways the technology could be poised to change healthcare as well.