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Maker movement crosses over to mainstream

09 Mar 2015  | Ray Hsu

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The world of engineering design is once again at the verge of transformation. Previously accessible to only multimillion-dollar companies and large corporations, the maker movement is now making a sound presence even at the grassroots level. Makers around the world are inspiring each other to create (or "make") smart gadgets, robotic gizmos, autonomous drones and wearable devices.

Makers work in home garages and collaborative work spaces with their peers. More importantly, they openly share their inventions online to inspire new innovations from other makers. This type of grassroots "viral innovation" is disrupting the status quo. Is this the beginning of the next industrial revolution?

The Homebrew Computing Club was founded in the 1970s by a small group of hobbyists building PCs in their garages. They met regularly in Silicon Valley to share inventions and discuss new ideas. None of the members understood the historical implications of the meeting when two members of the club, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, presented their new computer. It was the Apple I, and it helped deliver PCs to the masses and propel us into the information age.

Modern-day makers are the same as the hobbyists of the 1970s, just on a much larger scale. Nearly 200,000 of them attended the two flagship Maker Faire events, also known as the "Greatest Show and Tell on Earth," last year in San Francisco and New York. The Internet is fuelling a maker community orders of magnitude larger than what was possible in the 1970s. As the maker movement continues to grow and garner worldwide attention, it is important to assess the impact it will have on innovation, economic growth and our future generations.

Consumer-driven innovation

The PC created a new generation of software developers who could innovate in the digital world without the limitations of the physical world. Through its inherent nature of virtually no marginal cost, software has become the great equalizer for innovation. Software provides an open canvas for creativity that empowers individuals to make highly valuable products with the ability to disrupt corporate-driven products and business models. At no other time in history has it been easier for an idea to originate in the imagination of a single individual and spread to a mass market.

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