Thomas Kalil, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, talks Maker Movement

On today’s O’Reilly Radar, Dale Dougherty has posted the full text of the talk Thomas Kalil delivered at a workshop entitled “Innovation, Education, and the Maker Movement,” held (at the NY Hall of Science) immediately following World Maker Faire. This speech is quite amazing, coming as it does from the Deputy Director of Policy of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. I love that a US government official is talking about hackers/hackerspaces and giving shout-outs to folks like Willow Brugh/Jigsaw Renaissance, Madagascar Institute, and reverse geocaching!

First — what are the key cultural, social, technological and economic dimensions of the Maker Movement?

Obviously — it begins with the Makers themselves — who find making, tinkering, inventing, problem-solving, discovering and sharing intrinsically rewarding. These Makers have a strong “Do It Yourself” and “Do It With Others” mindset — and making is an important element of their personal identity. That’s why the tag line of Make Magazine is “technology on your own time.”

Those of you who had an opportunity to wander around the Maker Faire saw the dazzling array of Maker projects and Maker communities — like the Madagascar Institute’s 360 degree Swing of Death and jet-powered carnival rides or the cellphone-based sensors for carbon dioxide and ambient noise. We saw Makers like the chemist working to create some of the capabilities of a $10,000 Scanning Tunneling Microscope for a few hundred bucks, or the engineer who had the inspired idea to use reverse geocaching to design a wedding present — a puzzle box that only opens on one spot on the planet.

It’s work done in many different mediums, including electronics, open source hardware, Howtoons, metal working, DNA, medieval weapons, wood, arts and crafts, robots, rockets, quadrocopters, Diet Coke and Mentos, and fire and other dangerous things.

From a social perspective, vibrant communities are organizing around projects, technologies, and physical places. For example, one community called DIYDrones has developed a $500 unmanned aerial vehicle using open source chip sets and gyroscopes. Hacker Spaces and Maker Spaces are springing up around the country — like Jigsaw Renaissance in Seattle, which seeks to encourage:

Ideas. Unfiltered, unencumbered, and unapologetically enthusiastic ideas. Ideas that lead to grease-smeared hands, lavender sorbet, things that go bang, clouds of steam, those goggle-marks you see on crazy chemistry geeks, and some guy (or girl) in the background juggling and swinging from a trapeze … Walk through our door with an open mind, and you are liable to be whisked off your feet and into a project you’d never have thought up. We encourage communal learning, asking questions, and pushing that red button. Go on. Do it. If you stick around long enough, you’ll end up being the one creating projects and doing the 3-2-1 countdown for some new toy. Which is exactly what we hope will happen.

Technologically — we are moving towards what MIT’s Neil Gershenfeld has called personal fabrication. Consider how Moore’s Law has enabled the transition from the expensive and remote mainframe to the personal computer to the smartphone that fits in your pocket to the Internet of things. We are seeing the same phenomena with the dramatic reduction in the cost of the tools needed to design, make and test just about anything — including $1,200 3D printers, CAD tools, machine tools, sensors, and actuators. Remember the replicator from Star Trek? It’s rapidly moving from science fiction to science fact. What will happen as we continue to democratize the tools needed to make physical objects that are smart, aware, networked, customized, functional, and beautiful? I have absolutely no clue — but I am confident that it will be awesome. As one maker put it, “The renaissance is here, and it brought ice cream.”

Economically — we are seeing the early beginnings of a powerful Maker innovation ecosystem. New products and services will allow individuals to not only Design it Yourself, but Make it Yourself and Sell it Yourself. For example, Tech Shops are providing access to 21st century machine tools, in the same way that Kinkos gave millions of small and home-based business access to copying, printing, and shipping, and the combination of cloud computing and Software as a Service is enabling “lean startups” that can explore a new idea for the cost of ramen noodles.

Makers are also becoming successful entrepreneurs. Dale just wrote a compelling story about Andrew Archer — the 22-year-old founder of Detroit-based Robotics Redefined. As a teenager, Andrew started off entering robotics competitions and making printed circuit boards on the kitchen table. He is now building customized robots that transport inventory on the factory floors of auto companies. With more entrepreneurs like Andrew — we could see a bottom-up renaissance of American manufacturing.

Read the full speech here.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

View more articles by Gareth Branwyn


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