Why Shenzhen is the factory of the world for Makers

Writing for the UK-based Guardian, Georgina Voss notes that hosting a Maker Faire in Shenzhen, which some describe as the “factory of the world,” makes quite a lot of sense.

Indeed, Dale Dougherty, founder of MAKE Magazine and creator of Maker Faire, recently confirmed that the first official Maker Faire held in Shenzhen earlier this month successfully celebrated the emergence of the Maker Movement in China, while recognizing the significance of the city as a global capital for DIY culture.

“The city’s history rippled into Maker Faire Shenzhen, which sat in the shadow of high-rises. As expected, many of the classic Maker Faire features were in place: soldering workshops, talks by ‘Makers’, people looking awkward in Google Glass,” Voss explains.

“Yet Maker Faires are often characterized by lots of DIY projects and arts-tech mash-ups and these were conspicuously lacking. Instead, most stalls were occupied by fully realized electronics products – brainwave-controlled drones, robots, lots and lots of 3D printers – either ready for market, or in their beta stage and shipping later in the year.”

According to Voss, the region’s strengths in consumer electronics may also be particularly well-suited to the potential outputs of ‘Maker to Market’ outputs, starting with simplified prototypes built on open hardware technologies such as Arduino boards.

“Several hardware start-up accelerators have also set up shop in the city, including Haxlr8r and PCH’s Highway 1, and they acknowledge that […] regional innovation systems exist: participants spend time in Shenzhen to learn about the manufacturing and supply chain networks in the city, before being returned to the Bay Area to pitch for funding,” says Voss.

“The easy-to-use, flexible and low-cost technologies which underpin [accelerators] – open hardware microcontrollers and 3D printers, for example – have their own materiality and their own geography.”

Voss also points out that all of the factors which define Shenzhen as a competitive industry hub make it particularly attractive to Makers, including cheap and available raw materials, manufacturing skills and facilities, as well as clear entry points into supply chains.

“The ‘Maker’ identity can be framed by flattened shared qualities and values, working with technologies whose provenance is not always transparent. But nothing in technology is so simple or so isolated,” she concluded.

“Maker Faire Shenzhen shines a light on the externalities and ecosystems of making itself: the political regimes which regulate; the infrastructures which support it; the forms of work that drive it; and the culture and history that shape it.”

The full text of “Making in China: Maker Faire Shenzhen Highlights the Global Politics of the Maker Movement,” written by Georgina Voss is available on The Guardian here. Readers may also want to check out “Atmel looks back at Maker Faire Shenzhen” which can be read here.

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