Atmel hearts Makers, and here’s why

The Maker movement is growing and starting to make its mark on business, the economy and everyday life.

While the movement may have started small, pushing up from the grassroots, Makers are increasingly thinking “big,” beginning to focus on broader based needs, from improving consumer products that could hit the mass market, to designing medical devices to fill industry niches, to revolutionizing STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education.

hardwareworkshop

The fundamentally social nature of the Maker space is inspiring people to launch innovative products easily and cheaply. In so doing, it is empowering a new generation of small/medium businesses and entrepreneurs. Even the corporate world and investor communities are starting to sit up and pay attention to makers and ask what role they might play in their success.

3D printing and easy-to-use robots are spawning a new era of social, collaborative manufacturing, which while still in its nascent stages, is growing exponentially and piquing the imagination of millions.

The Economist recently dubbed the burgeoning phenomenon “The Third Industrial Revolution” with the Boston Consulting Group noting that in areas such as transport, computers, fabricated metals and machinery, 10-30% of the goods that America now imports from China could be made at home by 2020, boosting American output by $20 billion-55 billion a year.

In a recent study of makers themselves, 46 percent of those polled said their commercial making activity was or would be their job, while 20% said they currently held “Maker” jobs.  83 percent were already employed and 31 percent had job titles in technical areas involving science or engineering. Two-thirds work in private industry. In addition, 56 percent of makers said they had applied for a patent or trademark.

Meanwhile, one in five makers said they had been approached by a commercial enterprise about an idea or prototype, which shows that the level of commercial enterprise interest is increasing.

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, chipmakers are eyeing the maker movement as a possible development community for the internet of things, tapping in to the passion and creativity to revitalize their own research and development efforts. The manufacturing sector, in particular, could benefit from the entrepreneurial spirit and creative instincts of the makers, who find fixes to problems at a fraction of the cost.

Most chipmakers have produced inexpensive development boards for this very purpose, seeding them out among makers and keenly following their progress. While Raspberry Pi and Beagle Board have gained momentum among makers, however, it’s still Arduino that captures the hearts and minds of the majority.

Atmel, of course, makes the processor that sits on this incredible open source circuit board and is therefore at the very center of the whole Maker revolution.

At their basic level, Atmel’s microprocessors provide a minimal amount of computing power, with digital inputs and digital outputs. Many have an analog to digital converter built into the chip, allowing for sensors to be attached. At the higher end, some come with HDMI out, Ethernet, and WiFi built into the chip.

Of course, hardware is just the building blocks. On the software side, Arduino provides a Java-based Integrated Development Environment that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux. The code is based on C, and multiple libraries are included to interface seamlessly with various add on shields.

Credit: Funwithdc.com

For many makers, Arduino is the easiest and fastest way to go from platform to prototype, and the best part is that you don’t have to be an engineer to use it.

Like open source-software before it, open source hardware is making its presence felt, even in the corporate world, being championed by a maker movement happy to blaze a trail before business models have yet to set. Like the early champions of Linux, these frontrunners can be thought of as pioneers, to be ignored and dismissed at corporate peril. After all, isn’t the basis for Android Open Source?

If you want to see what all the Maker buzz is about, why not stop by the San Mateo Maker Faire this weekend (18/19 May), or follow @Atmel and Twitter hashtags #MakerFaire #AtmelMakes and #Whatwouldyoumake for regular updates from the show!

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