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Maker Pro News: Lessons From Layoffs, Machine Learning for Maker Pros, and More

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Maker Pro News: Lessons From Layoffs, Machine Learning for Maker Pros, and More

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Trust your inspiration, your pleasure, and your fun.” – Maker Pro Maria Elena Cianfanelli

Learning from Informal Engineers

In a captivating new Make: interview, interdisciplinary artist and designer Sara Hendren (@ablerism) describes her work on adaptive technology at Olin College of Engineering (@OlinAdmission) and beyond.

One of Hendren’s projects is Engineering at Home, a website that documents the ingenious tools devised by a woman named Cindy in order to negotiate her new life as an amputee. Hendren believes that Cindy’s work, which she terms “informal engineering,” can provide valuable lessons for everyone engaging with accessible design.

“Once you understand the workings of the world, that they are the product of human decisions, then you understand that not everything that is inherited in your built environment is the way it must be,” Hendren said. “The possibility for otherwise is everywhere.”

Bridging The Virtual and Physical Worlds

Startup Hover (@hoverhelps its users turn two-dimensional images of their homes into precise 3D models. The idea is that the scans will help homeowners communicate precise design considerations to architects and contractors, deliver more accurate home insurance estimates and give DIYers a new tool to visualize what new home projects will look like.

The concept was enough to impress investors including Standard Industriesand Home Depot (@HomeDepot) — the latter of which may be thinking about synergies the service could offer its chain of home improvement stores — which raised $25 million for the company.

We Can Do Better

The lead item in last week’s newsletter discussed FWDNXT, an Indiana startup working on a chip to run neural networks. Above the item, we ran an image in which FWDNXT’s technology identified a number of men — but labeled the only woman in the photo simply as “Person.”

Reader Ronah Harris, a maker pro and educator who’s won two Emmys for her work on Sesame Street (@sesamestreet) and The Electric Company (@ElectricCompany) and founded several edtech startups, was disquieted by the image’s implicit message. Pointing to work about how machine vision can perpetuate longstanding racial inequalities, Harris asked whether we could have done better in contextualizing the graphic.

“I interpreted the image that was published as a message about the state of technology today,” Harris wrote. “Where this group of the men are identified as individuals, the only female, and a dark skinned female, is not even afforded an identity. This leaves so many questions about gender, race, the future of technology and the roles of the participants. The state of things right now reflect a long history of exclusion and bias. We have major problems in the world that humans aided by technology can fix. Honestly, we don’t have the time to be wasteful of the human potential to change and fix those problems. Every person needs to feel welcome.”

We checked in with FWDNXT, who said that the algorithm simply hadn’t been trained to recognize the woman in the frame. But Harris is right: the maker pro community should be welcoming to everyone, and we can do better to spread that message.

Shoot for the Moon

Italian maker pro Maria Elena Cianfanelli makes beautiful, hand-painted globe lamps, painted like planets and the moon — like this one, which was linked to an unintentionally-entertaining network of spam bots on Twitter, but handcrafted and far nicer — and sells them on an Etsy store.

In a new Make: interview, Cianfanelli discusses the project’s origins and deep research, which have included working from imagery gathered by NASA’s (@NASA) Cassini probe.

“Please trust yourself,” she said. “Trust your inspiration, your pleasure and your fun. Please follow the subtle sweet voice inside that says who you truly are and sing it loud: magic will happen!”

Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web

Almost all maker pros are indebted in some way to open source resources — and the term “open source,” Make: Senior Editor Caleb Kraft (@calebkraftpoints out, was coined 20 years ago as of this past weekend.

A cautionary tale for the makers of wearables and collectors of data alike: after researchers noticed this week that a heat map by fitness-tracking app Strava (@Strava) had unintentionally revealed the locations of secret military bases, the Defense Department (@DeptofDefense) pledged to reevaluate guidelines for social media and wearable electronics.

After a strong response at CES (@CES) this year, Swiss startup Sensoryx is planning to launch a crowdfunding campaign to bring their virtual reality glove system VRfree to market.

The Texas Medical Center Accelerator (@TMCInnovationnamed participantsof its sixth class of health startups this week. The cohort includes ORIntel, which is working on hardware to make operating rooms more efficient and SenceTech (@SenceTechInc), which is building a bracelet that measures heart rate variability.

MIT (@MIT) spinoff Lightelligence, which is working on a neural network “in a photonic integrated circuit,” picked up $10 million in funding led by Baidu (@Baidu_Inc), a big name in Chinese tech — yet another indication of the strong interest in artificial intelligence hardware startups.

GoPro’s (@GoPro) latest earnings, which some observers called a “disaster,” is the latest sign that even promising startups can falter in the face of competition by huge business interests. “Building an independent hardware startup is next to impossible in an age where hardware sales are still dominated by giant tech companies,” wrote VentureBeat’s Chris O’Brien (@obrien).

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DC Denison is the co-editor of The Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection of makers and business. That means hardware startups, new products, and market trends.

DC manages customer stories at Acquia, the digital experience company.

View more articles by DC Denison

Jon Christian is the co-editor of the Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection between makers and business. He's also written for the Boston Globe, WIRED and The Atlantic.

View more articles by Jon Christian
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