DIY Makers inspire Silicon Valley

Writing for Reuters, Noel Randewich notes that Silicon Valley was originally made famous by hard-scrabble hackers and modders building radios, microchips and other devices.

“Now, a proliferation of high-tech but affordable manufacturing tools and new sources of funding are empowering a [new] generation of handy entrepreneurs, [while] laying the foundation for a hardware renaissance,” he explains.

Designers work at computer stations at TechShop in the South of Market neighborhood in San Francisco, California April 24, 2014. CREDIT: REUTERS/ROBERT GALBRAITH

“[The] Maker movement [is] sweeping northern California and, in a smaller way, Europe and other countries. Renewed interest in tinkering with objects – versus apps or software – is attracting more money from investors and fostering a growing number of workshops, where aspiring inventors can get their hands on computerized milling machines and other high-end tools.”

Ann Miura-Ko, a self-professed tinkerer and partner at Floodgate, tells Reuters she believes nostalgia for the Valley days of yore plays a key role in the Maker boom.

“Just the same way you have kids who have been coding for 10 years at the age of 16, you’re going to see kids who have been making stuff for 10 years at the age of 16. If you see that, you’ll know we’re ready for the Mark Zuckerberg of hardware.”

As Randewich points out, the growing wave of do-it-yourselfers may very well hold the key to manufacturing innovation.

“Hardware is catching up to the open-source revolution, with common standards and a culture that encourages the sharing of designs and building blocks that save inventors the time and expense of reinventing the wheel,” he writes.

“Take the palm-sized [Atmel-powered] Arduino, ubiquitous in the Maker Movement. The roughly $20 item was developed for students, offering low price and relatively easy programming. Arduino lets do-it-yourselfers snap together and program interchangeable components such as GPS chips and motor controllers to run everything from robots to cocktail mixers.”

Meanwhile, Christine Furstoss of General Electric says products of the do-it-yourself movement – improved 3D printing, laser cutters, water jets and other tools – will help the United States safeguard and extend its lead in advanced manufacturing.

“We’re proud of our manufacturing heritage, but we don’t invent everything… The spirit and tools of the Maker Movement are something we want to engage with,” she concludes.

The full text of “Do-it-yourselfers Inspire Hardware Renaissance in Silicon Valley” by Noel Randewich is available on Reuters here.

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