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Sharing solutions, standardisation key to designing the future

15 Apr 2016  | Jessica MacNeil

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MIT Media Lab's toy designer, inventor, educator and research scientist Kipp Bradford, in a keynote address last Wednesday at ESC Boston shared his vision for the future of the Maker Movement.

Bradford looks into the future and states the best way of predicting it is firstly, to envision how we want it to be and secondly, try to create technologies to make that future into reality. However, he notes that it will take more than pushing the limits of science and technology.

"A lot of my work is trying to be predictive about the future, trying to design the future," said Bradford. "Engineering has to work hand in hand with designers, artists, and society."

The way forward is to take a lesson from the movement and design like a maker. Bradford's idea of designing like a maker means validating quickly, building modularly, standardising, and sharing solutions.

the maker movement

Figure 1: MIT Media Lab's Kipp Bradford shares his vision for the future of the Maker Movement at ESC Boston 2016.

The Maker Movement has connected people to technology and translated technologies into products in a whole new way. With crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and events like Maker Faire, people can present things they've made, and get a response that could indicate if there's a market for it as a product.

Rather than going through a long research process to decide what to build, people build the thing they like and put it out in the world, and that can lead to some impressive things. Bradford pointed to his MIT Media Lab colleague Hugh Herr, a double amputee, as an example.

"All the things that he's made Hugh basically says, "Yeah, I'm an engineer, but the only thing I care about is walking again, so I'm going to make the things that allow me to walk," said Bradford.

A product that has flourished in the maker community is the Arduino platform. Its user-focused design has allowed it to continue to evolve 10 years after its introduction. The drone industry and the 3D printer industry were also built on top of open source platforms.

"Arduino paid deep respect to the humanity of creating technology," said Bradford. "The thing that was really great about it wasn't that there was any new technology in it, it was that somebody thought really long and hard about what it means to actually use the technology that we create."

The success of maker products has highlighted the idea that when technology is made easy, more can be done with it. Reducing friction allows for faster design, which benefits everyone. That's where engineers come in.

"It's not makers who are making the technology easy, it's the people in this room who are doing that," Bradford told to ESC Boston crowd. "Frictionless frameworks give us super powers as engineers and designers."

Design tools are key to minimising friction and empowering designers, but Bradford emphasised the importance of keeping them accessible.

"If you can't sit down with a 12-year-old and explain it to them and get them using the tool in 15 minutes, then it's too complex," said Bradford.

Bradford has had the chance to practice what he preaches, designing products he was interested in, like a portable cooling system for his bedroom that he later sold to the U.S. Air Force for emergency cooling of trauma victims being medevaced, and designing like a maker. During his keynote, he wore a brooch he designed that simulates the spread of the HPV virus. It featured an ultra low power processor driving LEDs, four-layer circuit boards, infrared transceivers, and could communicate to a network of devices.

the maker movement

Figure 2: Bradford's brooch simulates the spread of the HPV virus featuring an ultra low power processor driving LEDs, four-layer circuit boards, infrared transceivers.

"This took me a day to design and then I emailed the files off to a company that 3 days later sent me manufactured and assembled boards that I plugged in, downloaded some Arduino code, and got running," said Bradford.

The lessons learned from the Maker Movement have the potential to make the future of innovation bright, and life easier for the world of makers and consumers.

"If you make my life hard with your technology, I'm going to find somebody else's technology that makes my life easy," said Bradford.

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