Recently our Creative Technology team went on a field trip to the National Maker Faire here in Washington, DC. What is a Maker Faire, you ask? Picture this desk, and multiply that by 10^5. It’s a place and space to come together to see what people are creating across the spectrum of arts and crafts, with an emphasis on new technology and emerging media. Some of it is handled science-fair style, but there were also talks and workshops to see and attend.
So what did we learn from our outing?
1. If we stop making the things the world needs, we stop being important in the world.
The world has become a highly competitive global marketplace. We can no longer take our historical position as the world’s top-producing nation for granted. Brands are understanding this and encouraging the maker spirit themselves through, sponsorships of these events, as well as internal competitions. Companies such as CapitalOne and Starbucks were at National Maker Faire demonstrating how maker culture is infused in their brands.
2. Making is fun.
Some of us actually went twice: once with our team and again with our families. To watch a six year-old solder her own flashlight out of plumbing fittings and LEDs gives us something more than a souvenir when we’re done. It sparks creativity and a sense of “I can do that!” that will drive her to find new challenges to conquer.
3. We need to solve the skills gap.
“Makerspaces,” places where people can learn and create with these new high-tech toys, are popping up all over the country: in schools, libraries, bustling downtowns and rural America. The goal of these spaces is to learn by doing. As one panelist put it, “We will take you as far as you want to go without getting into theory.”
Learning calculus or computer theory has the reputation for being dry and boring. While this knowledge is useful and necessary in its own right, it’s the actual process of “doing” that inspires further learning, while also helping to solve the short-term problems of the lack of a qualified skilled workforce.
4. We can literally make the world a better place.
One exhibit we saw was from a project using 3D-printed animals as substitutes for educational dissection. Another exhibit featured low-cost solar-powered cooking appliances for use in developing nations. This kind of ingenuity—using technology in creative ways to solve long-standing problems—is the next great opportunity of the 21st century.
Maker Faires like this and around the country are a great way to figure out why there’s so much talk of 3D printing, meet some robots, and generally geek out for the day: take in the smell of burnt plastic and MDF from 3D-printed and laser-cut projects; learn why the Raspberry Pi is not for eating; and find out how the makers movement and low-cost prototyping tools are lowering barriers to accessing science and engineering fields for people in all sorts of communities around the world.
This was the first year for the National Maker Faire, and it was something of a scouting expedition for us. We’ve been making a lot of cool stuff lately, and plan to display some of our creations and experiments next year.
Making—and building—opportunity is something we’re always thinking about. And events like the National Maker Faire are great places to see that we are not alone in these endeavors.