Mission Possible: Solving Problems and Realizing Goals Through Open Communities

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Mission Possible: Solving Problems and Realizing Goals Through Open Communities

I have always enjoyed getting to know makers and their stories. I enjoy learning about what they make and how they make it, but I find especially fascinating why makers make what they do. Many projects start from a personal interest or passion, but then go beyond what the maker might have imagined. Makers explore and experiment; they create and innovate. Collectively, as a community, makers are having an impact by defining personal and social missions.

Ideas into Action

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In our January issue’s “The Little Boat That Could,” Damon McMillan told us about his project to build an eight-foot boat, a solar-powered autonomous craft. It was a project that started in his garage and he saw it as a personal challenge — not one done for a competition or to make money. He simply wondered if he could build this boat and if it would work. In May of 2016, he showed his boat at Maker Faire Bay Area and got lots of feedback on his design, and some skepticism on whether or not it would work. Later that same month, Damon took the boat to Half Moon Bay and launched the SeaCharger, setting it off on a 2,400-mile mission to Hawaii. The boat was able to inform him where it was on the journey via satellite. Some 41 days after launch, Damon and his family gathered in a harbor on the Big Island of Hawaii and watched his boat come to shore. Damon had built a boat and proved to himself and others what could be done with cheap electronics and basic fabrication techniques. He had completed a mission to demonstrate that his boat could sail on its own over that distance.

Damon, his family, and the SeaCharger

Designing and building the boat is just part of the story, and it didn’t end in Hawaii either. Because he is a maker, and didn’t want to pay to crate and ship his boat back to California, he put the boat back in the ocean and programmed it to go to New Zealand. SeaCharger traveled an additional 6,480 miles before its rudder broke. It was eventually picked up by a container ship and brought to New Zealand, and placed on display in the New Zealand Maritime Museum.

Hannah Edge is a 15-year-old high school student in Dublin, California who showed me a device she had designed and 3D printed. She called it a “spirometer” and I had to stop and ask her to explain what a spirometer is. She said that it measures breathing, specifically intake and outflow of your lungs. I asked her why she designed a spirometer and she said that she has asthma. She goes to the doctor’s office where they have a spirometer but she wondered if she could design a device that would be affordable for personal use. Not many asthma attacks happen in a doctor’s office. Her device, which she named “SpiroEdge,” is now a product and connects with a smartphone to collect data and produce reports. She rightly believes that others share her problem and would benefit from using SpiroEdge.

Hannah Edge’s SpiroEdge

The DIY ethos behind the maker movement encourages more people to figure out things for themselves — that you can learn to do anything if you want to do it. Not everybody knows how to solve the problems they encounter. Yet more people are aware that it is possible that such a problem could be solved, even if they can’t figure it out by themselves.

Donna Sanchez wondered if some kind of device could help her 11-year-old daughter, Malia, who has cerebral palsy. She thought there could be a tool to assist Malia to express herself more clearly so that others could understand her, as her mother does. Donna had in mind a name for the device — an “Articulator” — that would recognize Malia’s speech and convert it into plain spoken English. Malia could wear the articulator around her neck or on her wrist. Donna had the idea for a device but she wrote us, asking if there were makers who might figure out how to build it. I know there are makers who would be interested. If you’d like to help, you can participate on Maker Share in our mission to help Malia.

Malia Sanchez. Photo by Donna Sanchez

Leveraging the Maker Community

Open communities of practice have grown up in the maker movement that help to organize makers who can do things as well as people they might serve. One example is the e-Nable community that brings together makers who contribute designs for prosthetic hands and makers with expertise in 3D printing. E-Nable helps people share expertise and learn to solve problems together. I recall meeting a parent at a Maker Faire who exclaimed that he knew nothing about 3D printing a year ago. When he discovered that he could use one to create a prosthetic hand for his son, he became part of the community and learned to do so. When I heard his story, he was standing next to his son who held up a bright-red hand and flipped it over to show me the black Batman logo. Both of them were beaming with pride.

Iron Man-style E-Nable hand. Photo courtesy of Jen Owen – enablingthefuture.org

As the maker movement grows, we can pursue two large goals. First is to broaden participation in the maker movement so that more people from diverse backgrounds get access to tools and develop skills and mindset as makers. Second is to create open communities that have a mission to combine the range of abilities of many makers to solve problems of greater sophistication and significance. We can leverage the maker community for research, collaborative production, and open innovation, solving problems that many of our institutions struggle to solve and serve people who are not well served today.

Missions for Makers

This summer, we are launching a new online platform called Maker Share. Much like Maker Faire, we want to enable makers to share their projects, which show their interests and demonstrate their capabilities. On Maker Share, you can create a maker portfolio. You can tell your own story, share a show-and-tell video for each project that explains what you made and why you made it. We developed Maker Share with Intel as a partner to promote collaboration and innovation in the maker community. Maker Share will also host missions and invite makers to participate by solving important problems and helping other people. You’ll find the Malia Project as a mission on Maker Share. I expect that we will see all kinds of missions presented on Maker Share — humanitarian, conservation, energy innovation, healthcare, and more. Sharing a mission with other makers can be a rewarding experience personally. By documenting these missions, the maker movement can demonstrate tangible benefits to society and justify investment in makerspaces, microfactories, and innovation labs that support makers.

Consider defining a mission for yourself as a maker. Many artists have a mission statement that shapes what they do and helps them explain why they make a number of choices. Consider joining missions or leading one of your own. One might even think that learning to become a maker is training to become part of an important mission.

Create a portfolio today at makershare.com
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DALE DOUGHERTY is the leading advocate of the Maker Movement. He founded Make: Magazine 2005, which first used the term “makers” to describe people who enjoyed “hands-on” work and play. He started Maker Faire in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2006, and this event has spread to nearly 200 locations in 40 countries, with over 1.5M attendees annually. He is President of Make:Community, which produces Make: and Maker Faire.

In 2011 Dougherty was honored at the White House as a “Champion of Change” through an initiative that honors Americans who are “doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate and out-build the rest of the world.” At the 2014 White House Maker Faire he was introduced by President Obama as an American innovator making significant contributions to the fields of education and business. He believes that the Maker Movement has the potential to transform the educational experience of students and introduce them to the practice of innovation through play and tinkering.

Dougherty is the author of “Free to Make: How the Maker Movement Is Changing our Jobs, Schools and Minds” with Adriane Conrad. He is co-author of "Maker City: A Practical Guide for Reinventing American Cities" with Peter Hirshberg and Marcia Kadanoff.

View more articles by Dale Dougherty