A Beginners Guide to The Maker Movement
What Is The Maker Movement?
The Maker Movement, or Maker culture, is essential about making your own technology, or making your own stuff using technology.
It combines elements of hobby craft with the 'Do It Yourself' (DIY) ethos and the latest in high technology. As the name itself suggest, it is all about making things. The people involved in the Maker Movement are involved in a wide range of activities including custom electronics, electronics hacking, DIY home automation, hobby robotics, 3D printing and traditional craft skills such as metalwork or woodwork.
Whereas DIY is all about doing home improvement projects and home repairs yourself instead of hiring a trades person, Maker Culture is all about making or improving your own consumer products.
There is a burgeoning community of 'Makers' on the internet, who share tips, project blueprints and hacks - as well as personal experiences and photos or videos of their work.
The overriding theme of Maker Culture is finding and exploiting new ways that modern technology can empower individual people, and how individual people can take greater control and ownership over the technology and the products which they use in their everyday lives.
But most importantly - Maker Culture is fun! Its all about experimenting and playing with things, making fantastic and ingenious creations, and enhancing your life with technology that is more personalized and probably a lot cheaper than anything you could buy off the shelf.
A 3D Printer from Ultimaker
The Maker Movement has enthusiastically embraced one new technology in particular - 3D printing.
A 3D printer is very much like a regular desktop printer, but instead of printing two dimensional words or pictures it produces three dimensional objects. These objects, which could be anything from a simple toy to the components for a gun (its been done!) are printed out from a computer file similar to a regular CAD (computer aided design) file.
The idea that people can simply print out their own everyday products from a file on their computer, rather than going to the store to buy them, fits perfectly with the DIY ethos of the Maker Movement.
There are now plenty of websites where you can download or share design files, and the cost of the printers themselves has come down drastically over recent years. If you are feeling ambitious, you can even find open source designs or buy a kit to build your own 3D printer!
And just to blow your mind entirely - some 3D printers are 'self-replicating' - meaning that you can print yourself out a new printer!
Examples of 3D Printed ProductsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Open Source and Open Hardware
There is a substantial connection between the Maker Movement and the Open Source community.
The term 'Open Source' refers to any software whose source code and documentation is published openly on the internet. Generally this code is distributed under some kind of 'creative commons' license, which means that anybody is free to use or modify the software as they wish as long as they abide by the rules of the particular license which is used. Sometimes this specifies that you must include an attribution to the original author, or that you can use it only for non-commercial projects, or that you can use it but not modify it. Sometimes there are few or no restrictions at all. Open Source software projects are often non-commercial ventures, and are developed collaboratively by volunteers. Anybody can get involved in helping to develop these Open Source software projects by reporting bug, suggesting improvements, or writing new code to add extra features.
The Open Source model is very popular amongst programmers, who often need their own projects to have many of the same features as those of their peers and are happy to collaborate and share their work.
The Maker Movement makes full use of the many Open Source resources which are available, and attempts to extend the concept out of the software world into hardware. Hardware blueprints are therefore published on the internet for anybody to use or modify to make their own stuff, and communities of like-minded enthusiasts collaborate on improving the technology.
Is The Future Open?
Can Open Source Projects Compete With Commercial Products?
The Raspberry Pi
Custom Electronics - Raspberry Pi and Arduino
Making your own gadgets and other electronics may seem like an impossible task for the ordinary person. Most people would think that you need an advanced engineering degree and a huge budget to start doing something like that - but that really isn't the case.
Starting out with making your own electronics is actually very easy, and there are loads of great tools and resources out there to help you. Two of the most popular products to use as the basis for your own custom electronics are called 'Raspberry Pi' and 'Arduino'. Both of these are very low cost, low power computers which are designed for people to use for creating their own electronics projects. Actually they are called 'microcontrollers', but you can think of them as mini-computers which are designed so that you can easily hook them up to sensors, motors, television screens and many more things. Because they are low-power you can even leave them on all the time without running up your electricity bill too much, so they are perfect for creating your own home automation projects. You can also use them to make robots or just to experiment with to learn robotics and computer programming.
There are loads of kits out there with different components to add to your Raspberry Pi or Arduino, and instruction on how to do it. There are also plenty of beginner friendly tutorials (see further down the page for links to websites which publish tutorials).
These cool little computer boards are often used in schools to inspire children to take an interest in electronic engineering or computer programming, because you can do some really fun stuff with them without needing any advanced knowledge or expensive equipment.
A Plant Growth Monitor
The Internet of Things
The internet is a network connecting millions of computers around the world to create a 'world wide web'. Proponents of the 'internet of things' believe that its not just computers and their human operators which should be hooked up the to this network - they want everything to be 'connected'.
Simply put, the internet of things is the integration of physical objects into our digital networks. There are many commercial applications for this, such as putting tracking chips in product packaging to improve the monitoring and control of stock. There are also many political fears, as some people worry that human beings could one day be forced to have RFID chip implants, so that they can be tracked and controlled like products of the state. But there are also many opportunities for Makers to connect their creations to the internet to make them more 'smart' and help them to communicate more effectively with their human owners.
The 'bird feeder cam' shown in the video above is a great example of this - when it detects movement inside the feeder it snaps a picture of whatever was moving (hopefully a bird!) and then connects to the internet to send you the new picture with a tweet!
Makers often seem to think that everything should be connected to the internet (and often to Twitter) just for the fun of it!
Popular Maker Culture Websites:
- Technology Instructables
Technology Instructables - Explore the Biggest How To and DIY community
MAKE - DIY projects, how-tos, and inspiration from geeks, makers, and hackers
- Maker Faire | The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth
Maker Faire - The Greatest Show and Tell on Earth
- Cooking Hacks - Electronics for Arduino, Raspberry Pi and 3D Printers
Electronics for DIY and the Internet of Things (IoT) Community.
Consumer Electronics Hacking
Making your own projects is fun and rewarding, but there are some things that you just can't make from scratch at home. That is where electronic hacking comes in. Just as software hacking means breaking into an existing product (a website or other piece of software) to make it do things its original maker didn't intend it to do, hardware hacking does exactly the same but with physical products.
You can hack into electronics products to make them interface with other electronics which they wouldn't normally work together with, or you can hack into mechanical products and add your own electronics to make a dumb product smart. You can also connect virtually anything you want to the internet so that you can control it via an app or the web, and so that it can communicate what its doing to you .
Check out the hacked microwave project below for one of the best examples of electronics hacking on the net!