Tag Archives: Makerspaces

Atmel visits Beijing Makerspace… again

Beijing Makerspace is bringing tinkerers together to help make their IoT dreams a reality. 

Sander Arts, Atmel VP of Corporate Marketing, recently paid a special visit to the Beijing Makerspace on Tuesday, January 21, 2015.

Beijing Makers

There, not only did he explore the latest and greatest DIY creations, Arts participated in a well-attended press event with a number of journalists, tinkerers and entrepreneurs to discuss Atmel’s place at the heart of the rapidly growing global Maker Movement, and of course, the Internet of Things.



Located on the fourth floor of the International Digital Design Center in Zhongguancun, which has been dubbed China’s Silicon Valley, Beijing Makerspace is a community that gathers China’s Makers. The approximately 10,700-square-foot facility converges several open-source pieces of hardware such as the highly-popular AVR MCU, electronic platforms like Arduino and high-tech devices including 3D printers and robots — all the tools necessary to create next-gen IoT projects.


As we learned last year, Beijing Makerspace’s co-founder Justin Wang Shenglin believes that the community workshop can perhaps best be defined as a social enterprise. The establishing of the DIY hub for Wang wasn’t like starting a normal business. In fact, he tells the Chinese newspaper Global Times that it was more about finding a place where people with a common interest could come play, make and collaborate together. These people come from all walks of life — ranging from IT engineers and programmers, to designers and artists, to students and academics — and shared a common bond: making cool things!

Sander - Wang

“Having a creative idea about something is far from creating it, since craft is involved in the latter,” Wang told the Global Times in a recent interview. “Many people may start with a splendid idea, but end up finding it too hard to make it into a reality.”

As we’ve previously discussed on Bits & Pieces, Chinese government officials have also taken a keen interest in the Maker Movement in recent months due to its lucrative economic and educational potential.


“There is no other country that can perform better in craft and manufacturing than China,” explained Wang. “With an ever-growing market and firm support from the government, China is gaining its advantage in this new Industrial Revolution.”

China joins other nations, including the United States, in embracing the Maker Movement and its tremendous potential for entrepreneurship, by viewing this grassroots innovation as essential for staying competitive in our modern-day economic climate. As a May 2014 Slate article acknowledged, “The official rhetoric has a sense of urgency: China no longer wants to be seen as the ‘world’s factory,’ manufacturing goods that are designed elsewhere.”


For instance, Shanghai’s municipal government has backed plans to build 100+ Makerspaces throughout the city, with each location is said to be equipped with a 3D printer and will host staff to help visitors with traditional crafts such as woodworking. Meanwhile, last year’s Maker Faire in Shenzhen attracted an estimated 30,000 people.

Wang adds, “China is a Maker’s paradise. All the materials they could want are here and extremely cheap.”

Hack the world: How the Maker Movement is impacting innovation

In March 2011, an earthquake and following tsunami rocked Japan, culminating in the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. While the government focused on stabilizing the situation, the people of Japan were terrified of radiation, unaware whether it was safe for their families to stay in their homes.

(Source: Sean Bonner)

(Source: Sean Bonner)

A group of Makers out of Tokyo Hackerspace found a quick solution to lack of information by building a cheap and easy-to-use pocket radiation detector using an Arduino (a pint-size computer that’s relatively easy for anyone to program). They began making them, and most importantly, sharing the instructions online for anyone to reproduce. Through a partnership with Safecast, they were able to get the radiation data off of people’s phones and onto an online platform. Within a month, thousands of data points had been picked up, and people could determine whether they should evacuate. Even today, people all over the world are building these radiation detectors, iterating on the original design for new purposes. Fikra Space, a hacker group in Baghdad, has amended the design to track Depleted Uranium pollution in their region.

I use this anecdote as an example frequently as a glimpse into the power of the Maker Movement. A term that’s been widely popularized by technologists as of late, Makers are not necessarily persons with huge engineering prowess. Neither are they hackers with malicious intent. Instead, the term Maker defines a movement combining simple technology with the right culture of innovation and collaboration, to have impact at a scale that most startup founders, corporate innovators, and city legislatures only dream of.

What is a Maker?

Makers represent a subculture of tinkerers, artists, and engineers. It’s a culture that is akin to punks and Goths – it represents not just a style, but a lifestyle. It has crossed decades and countries effortlessly. It is an ethos: a fundamental belief that the world is made better by building, and taking things apart.

(Source: Kyle Cothern)

(Source: Kyle Cothern)

Makers thrive on several things:

1. Finding novel applications of existing technology

They are interested in breaking or hacking things to make them better, more efficient, or just more fun. ArcAttack is a band of musicians using massive Tesla Coils, alongside live and robotic musicians to create a spectacular show of musical prowess and technological innovation. Anouk Wipprecht, fashion designer and former Autodesk Artists in Residence created a Faraday Cage dress for this past Maker Faire in San Mateo, and people watched in awe as she performed alongside ArcAttack as bolts of lightning struck her on all sides without doing any harm.

2. Exploring the intersections between seemingly separate domains

Because the barrier-to-entry to be a Maker is so low (read: nonexistent), new domains of expertise and collaborations are the process on which they thrive. 3D printers, once an expensive technology allowed for the elite few companies that required them and those who knew how to operate them, is now at a price point and skill level that many can afford. Similarly, this technology is being used for everything from printing clothing to live organs and skin. The opportunities are endless.

3. Curiosity and voracious appetite for continued education and Do-It-Yourself

Why buy something when you can build it? Why not learn how to solder? (Think of the possibilities!) These are the fundamental questions that drive Makers. From craftsmanship to electronics, Makers build things that are inherently valuable to them at that moment, whether it’s building a smart coffee maker to building a table. The pride that you feel from learning a musical instrument or a new language is the high that drives Makers to learn more, and do more.

Community (Makerspaces, Hackerspaces, FabLabs, Oh My!)

(Source: Mitch Altman)

(Source: Mitch Altman)

Makers rarely work alone. Instead, they interact with an ever growing global community of hackerspaces, makerspaces, fablabs, and other collaborative spaces to share ideas and resources. Makerspaces have cropped up all over the world to give people access to tools, education and collaboration normally reserved for universities and corporate environments. These membership-based organizations range in size and structure, but share common tools such as 3D printers, CNC machines, electronics components, and more. These gyms for your brain have grown from several hundred to over 2,000 globally in a few short years.

(Source: MakerBot)

(Source: MakerBot)

Makers in collaboration can lead to some advantageous financial results. In 2008, Bre Pettis, Adam Mayer and Zach Smith schemed up a small, inexpensive and easy-to-use 3D printer within New York’s hackerspace, NYC Resistor. Later that year, they released their first version for consumers. 6 years later, MakerBot has sold over 44,000 printers, built a leading brand, and was recently acquired by Stratasys for $403M. A company born out of the Maker Movement, MakerBot has ushered in a new industrial revolution, characterized by collaboration and open-source culture. They’re not alone in this endeavor, companies like Adafruit IndustriesArduino, and countless others are blurring the line between play and profit.

The Art of Playfulness (or, How to Fail Often)

When communities are built on resource-sharing and experimentation, there is considerably less stigma around failing. You simply try again, plus some well-earned knowledge and battle (soldering) scars, along with the thousands of others within the community.

The Power Racing Series understands all too well the educational benefits of failure and have embraced it with a friendly competition. Power Racing Series was schemed up at Chicago Hackerspace Pumping Station: One by Maker and designer Jim Burke. The challenge: build a working electric vehicle, starting with a kids Power Wheels and $500. Race it against a dozen others at Maker Faires all over the country, and compete for both technical prowess and “moxie” points awarded by the crowd for the most creative and ridiculous teams. Chassis’ fly off, cars catch on fire, and general, hilarious mayhem ensues.

(Source: Anne Peterson)

(Source: Anne Peterson)

This race has gained tremendous traction as a friendly competition between makerspaces all over the globe , as a learning tool for engineering and imagination. Makers have competed from i3 DetroitNIMBY, and even MIT. While the teams are competing against one another, they also share knowledge, tools and tech between one another during the race. Currently the races are held at 7 Maker Faires in the US, and they are opening up a high school league to encourage use of the races as a STEM education platform for students.

Companies like Power Racing Series have grown organically from embracing the inherent silliness that is a result of constant, quick-fire iteration. They also understand that it offers a unique hands-on way to learn engineering sans classroom or textbooks. Similarly, littleBits has found a way to teach the basics of electrical engineering with magnetic Lego-like blocks that can produce anything from musical instruments to internet of things devices with a few snaps. Sugru has made an entire business out of fixing broken things with a fun new material with the texture of Play-Dough that fixes everything from soldering irons to motorcycle windshields.

Impact (Produce Locally, Share Globally)

Makers think big. They don’t think in terms of revenue or projected growth, they think in terms of impact. Unburdened by fear of failure or lack of resources, they make things because they are useful, or present a unique challenge. Because of this, and ingrained roots stemming from the open-source software movement, the technology created has the ability to be adapted and used all over the world, outside the bounds of traditional gatekeepers.

(Source: Eric Hersman)

(Source: Eric Hersman)

Makerspaces have permeated every corner of the globe, from Nairobi to Nicaragua, allowing access to shared resources not just within their individual spaces, but across borders. Just as Bre Pettis and team sought to solve the problem of expensive 3D printers, Makers are building things that are equally useful to them, and their communities.

BioCurious, a community of biohackers (yes, that’s a thing) in the Bay Area has found a way to make real vegan cheese by engineering yeast, raising over $37k on Indiegogo to fund the project. Two years prior, 4 girls in Lagos debuted a urine-powered generator at Maker Faire Africa, which provides 6 hours of electricity for every Liter of urine. While both projects are prototypes, both are reactions to clear, yet strikingly different needs of the individuals and communities involved.

Arduino, the pint-sized computer from Italy, is a tool for making an open-source micro-controller board and development environment that was inexpensive, cross-platform, and easy-to-use. Founder Massimo Banzi has succeeded in this endeavor, as Arduino boards have become the micro-controller of choice for Makers, and are used to power a variety of devices, from the previously mentioned bGeigie Nano to a variety of internet-of-things devices. The fact that Arduino is open-source allows anyone to iterate on the boards, whether creating smaller versions for wearables, or printing your own on paper.

DIY Drones, a website started by former Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson, sought a way to bring UAVS (Unmanned Arial Vehicles) from military to hobbyists. In a few years he’s been able to bring together an impressive community of Makers building drones and drone parts for a variety of purposes. Matternet has taken this movement and applied it to a very specific problem: the 1 billion people in the world that do not have access to all-season roads. This means, even though many of them have advanced telecommunications infrastructure, they cannot get food of medicine during an emergency. Founder Andreas Ratopolous saw the potential in UAVs far beyond what was being explored by hobbyist and has turned it into a viable business with massive impact.

What’s Next for the Maker Movement?

The Maker Movement has garnered a lot of attention over the last 5 years, but it’s not without it’s flaws. Hackerspaces and makerspaces, though great places to learn and innovate are difficult to scale, and can come with a host of organizational and cultural problems. Though there are a whole host of success stories of profitable business by Makers, most of the innovation is still culturally insulated and doesn’t ever make it to a business. Large brands have been attempting to leverage the Maker community to encourage internal innovation, but with little success. Why? By being exactly what the Maker moment loathes: large, secretive, and profit-driven.

The Maker Movement needs bridges, people who are passionate about everything that is at the core of the culture who are able to connect Makers to each other, and to the resources to translate ideas into tangible products.

As humans, we’re made to make stuff. It’s a fundamental part of our survival. The Maker Movement has built a culture on that core belief, and the creativity that it has unleashed has massive potential for the future of innovation across all domains, turning anyone from an engineer to a large organization into an entity capable of astronomical innovative potential.


Written by Madelynn Martiniere, this article was previously published on October 27, 2014 on Medium. 

Video: Atmel talks Makers, Arduino and IoT at ESC Brazil

This past August, Atmel had the opportunity to be an exhibiting sponsor at the Embedded System Conference in São Paulo, Brazil. Aside from showcasing our latest IoT solutionsAtmel | SMART product line and AVR microcontrollers, we were fortunate to also have time to interact with the vibrant Latin American embedded community.

Sander Arts, Atmel VP of Corporate Marketing, shared detailed insight into DIY culture, as well as the integral role Atmel plays in fueling the emerging embedded community. Additionally, Arts addressed the growth of the worldwide Maker Movement, showcasing a variety of startups (e.g. Pebble and MakerBot) who each got their start using versatile a range of Atmel 8- and 32-bit MCUs.

“There are over 217, in this particular moment, based and built around an Arduino (and AVR),” Arts revealed. “Specifically, there are over 160 AVR based projects on Kickstarter, of which 103 successful, collecting $7 million in funding.”

Arts went on to explore the newest addition to the Arduino family, the Arduino Zero — a simple, elegant and powerful 32-bit extension of the platform originally established by the popular ATmega328 based Uno.

Arts added that there are now over 1,000 Makerspaces and communities around the world, including a number of nearby Brazilian hackerspaces.

Shortly thereafter, the Atmel VP of Marketing had the chance to sit down with Garoa Hacker Clube’s Luciano Ramalho to further discuss the Maker Movement throughout the region, the company’s role in the DIY movement, embedded solutions and development environments, and of course, the budding popularity of Arduino.

During his Makers Club interview, Arts hinted at a couple of “additional developments around the Internet of Things for Makers,” which we now know was the Arduino Wi-Fi Shield 101 — a shield which enables rapid prototyping of IoT applications using the highly-popular open-source platform.

Throughout the week, there was a tremendous amount of real buzz and excitement amongst the embedded engineers, developers and hobbyists in attendance. Caminhos de Sucesso Editor Jose Antonio Purcino caught up with Atmel Senior Product Marketing Andreas Eieland and EE Times’ Max Maxfield to explore the latest hot trends and topics in embedded design, IoT and wireless.

“The Internet of Things is nothing new, as we have been connecting MCUs to sensors and analyzing the data for a long time,” Andreas Eieland, Atmel Senior Product Marketing Manager, told EE Times. “But what is new is the technology options available for engineers to develop connected systems without the high degree of complexity of the past.”

Next, the Atmel team will be heading to Electronica 2014. Here’s a quick look at the tech you can expect to see next month in Munich.

Maker culture growing in Southeast Asia

After many major tech manufacturers left the area in the early 2000s, many citizens throughout Singapore began adopting an ‘If it can be bought, buy it’ attitude when it came technology. Now, with the help of a strong Maker community, a DIY mentality is growing within the region. There is plenty of evidence that the Maker culture is taking hold within Singapore.


In addition, the ongoing acquisition of tech startups throughout Southeast Asia has attracted the attention of investors who understand the need for continued innovation. According to Assistant Professor Denisa Kera of the National University of Singapore (NUS), the open source movement has been playing an integral role in encouraging new ideas across the region.

“Hackerspaces attract some of the most interesting people you can meet in a city; the pragmatic visionaries who are not afraid to take on any challenge, but jealously protect their autonomy and freedom. They actually preserve the original mission of the universities, which is academic freedom,” Kera told TechInAsia in the context of a wide-ranging interview with the publication.

Testament to the rise in DIY, the recent Maker community event MakersBlock was a massive success — having attracted over 100 Maker participants and hosted more than 50 free workshops in July.

Continuing on the growth of the Movement, individual Makers like the team at Chibitronics has jumped onboard the DIY wave. The Chibitronics team has a goal of offering electronics education to local youth through simplistic circuitry designs. They offer a series of simple, yet informative electronics tutorials on their website and sell kits for electronics projects aimed for the younger generation. The Chibitronics site offers an active community forum where young Makers can share their projects and find inspiration.

Following in these footsteps, groups like the Singapore Makers are growing rapidly in size and contributing valuable knowledge to the community. Singapore Makers have made a concerted effort to connect designers with MakerSpaces where they can develop their ideas in the ideal environment.

“Most people think it is about the freedom to do research, but it is more than that. We need a space or an institution which will enable citizens to develop skills necessary for taking an active part in the public life of their communities. Hackerspaces are the best place to gain such knowledge and skills on your own terms,” Kera expained.


With the economy constantly in flux, it is positive to see the younger generations within Singapore are adopting a DIY attitude. “Innovation takes time. And this time, it seems Singapore is sinking the right roots for the long term,” writes Techgoondu‘s Alfred Siew.

Kera also referenced Shenzhen, China, where she is following the open hardware scene with the help of Bunnie Huang, David Li and Silvia Lindtner; furthermore, the professor described Shenzen as a diverse community of people from all over the world that innovates and works with local companies. She notes, “It’s a wild place for hardware innovation, officially they describe it as a special economic zone, but I think it is more like 1940′s Casablanca, where all connections are possible.”

In terms of Singapore, Kera says Hackerspace.sg and Sustainable Living Lab are her “second homes” in the country, as they were always supportive of her projects. “I like hanging out there, especially now when so much is starting to happen and there are so many fantastic makers you can meet on these Arduino meetups at Silicon Straits. I think now is the right time for people that are curious to join and start some projects in either of these places.”


Looking towards the future, Kera says she would like to see Fablabs and Makerspaces established in universities and local neighborhoods throughout the region.

“It would be best if we can combine them both, so anyone can come and learn some skills but also have access to tools needed for some small startup project. Hackerspaces grant members more space to define concepts, but also to simply find and discuss important issues related to science and technology. It creates a community space that engages and empowers people rather than another rat race,” she added.

The good news is that there has been a rise in Singapore-based companies developing innovative projects in recent months. One example is the TouchPico, a pocketable Android PC cum projector that allows a user to easily interact with games and other programs on a wall, just about anywhere you go. In addition, there has been a budding interest of young attendees inspired to attend Maker Faires. “Any culture starts easier from young, and learning how to program your first robot or interactive postcard is a great start,” Siew explains.

Atmel continues its commitment to inspire the global Maker Movement, as the company’s microcontrollers (MCUs) have been powering nearly every Arduino board on the market today. Our easy-to-use 8- and 32-bit MCUs are powering the worldwide Maker communities, spanning from Silicon Valley to Singapore.

11 ways Makers are turning trash into treasure with Arduino

  1. reuse (discarded objects or material) in such a way as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original.

What remains truly fascinating around the Maker Movement is do-it-yourselfers’ abilities to upcycle items that might otherwise be seen as trash, and transform them into fully-functional treasures — a majority of which rely upon an Atmel-based Arduino board for its second lease on life.

Making music with outdated computer parts

A group of Illinois-based Makers hailing from Makerspace Urbana have unveiled a way to take outdated technology and turn them into pieces of musical instruments. The Electric Waste Orchestra project strives to “manipulate the voltage flowing through circuit boards and use those signals to make music” out of components that would’ve otherwise ended up at the dump. As seen below, the Makers recently transformed an old keyboard number pad, six hard-drives, an Arduino and some software into a fully-functioning guitar jamming along with a modular synthesizer.


Turning trash into treasure with 3D printer built from e-waste 

Afate Gnikou led a team of West African Makers who developed a fully-functional 3D printer, the W. Afate. The printer removes spare electronic parts from dumps and transforms them into something useable. Gnikou uses the scraps from scanners, computers and printers and assembles them into the frame of a Prusa style RepRap printer that can then be hooked up to an Arduino board.


Transforming a broken umbrella into a stylish bag

Maker Agy had a broken umbrella that she was looking to repurpose. She used the waterproof material from the umbrella and an Arduino LilyPad (ATmega328V) to create a fashionable yet functional tote bag. With some smart sewing techniques, she was able to install a sensor on the outside of the bag that would power a bright LED in dark situations.


Making poetry from e-mail spam

This project steers away from the environmental world and takes the digital realm into account. The SpamPoetry machine was created by Varvara Guljajva and Mar Canet Sola to transform SPAM e-mail messages into snarky poetry. They used an Arduino aided sewing machine to run an algorithm that would turn unwanted e-mail waste into amusing poetry.


Upcycling broken wheelchairs into a $40 robot


A Maker by the name of Dark Light used three broken down wheelchairs to develop one fully-functional, remote-controlled robot. With an Arduino Mega 2560 (ATmega2560) hacking the chair’s controls, the robot unit can be manipulated at will and the forward facing camera provides location details. Along with Wi-Fi connectivity, the creation features six ultrasonic sensors that allow for basic obstacle avoidance. This is one smart robot!

Converting an old hard drive into a binary desk clock 


Maker named x2Jiggy had an extra hard drive enclosure taking up space on his desk and he decided to turn it into something of value! He took a few ATmega328 chips and mocked up a clock design to match his brand new binary watch. The microcontrollers receive the time from a RTC module, which supposedly has a battery that will last ten years. Talk about sustainability!

Bringing that old ride into the modern day


Take a drive through any neighborhood; you will probably see a few yards littered with sedentary cars that the owner plans to “fix up one day.” A DIYer by the name of MiDri has found the motivation to bring his beat up Nissan 280z back to life. Using an Arduino Duemilanove (ATmega168) board to control the sports car’s brain, MiDri has adapted much of the old-school analog controls to be governed by an Android tablet.

Cutting vinyl with an obsolete printer

Vinyl cutters are typically used to make stickers, signs and graphics. In short, they are quite handy for Makers to have around, which is why a Maker by the name of LiquidHandWash decided to upcycle an old printer by transforming it into a DIY vinyl cutter using an Arduino Uno (ATmega328).


Designing a coffee roaster from an old popcorn machine


Brenn10 modified an ordinary air popcorn popper by transforming the device into a slick Arduino-based controllable coffee roaster.

Turning an IBM Selectric into a printer


One Maker wanted his own typewriter terminal, so he took apart an IBM Selectric II and got to work. Instead of an electronic keyboard, the IBM Selectric II uses and electromechanical keyboard to tilt and rotate the Selectric’s typeball. In normal operation, a series of shafts underneath the keyboard are engaged. As Hackaday explains, the Maker added parts of an erector set to those levers and tied each one to one of 16 solenoids. With a set of solenoids able to print any key with the help of an Arduino, he had a fully automated typewriter from the early 1970s.

Making a robotic arm from recycled bike parts

Recently published on MAKE MagazineArt-Bot is a robotic arm controlled by arcade machine-like buttons whose components were all salvaged from old bicycle parts. For the controlling part of the arm, Maker Morgan Rauscher used an Atmel-based Arduino, servos and actuators so that Art-Bot could maneuver without any trouble.


If you know of any other useful projects that apply Arduino to the art of upcycling, share with us below. We’ll be happy to blog about it!

Atmel celebrates Makers with President Obama

As Tom Kalil and Jason Miller note on the White House blog, the United States has always been a nation of tinkerers, inventors and entrepreneurs.

“In recent years, a growing number of Americans have gained access to technologies such as 3D printers, laser cutters, easy-to-use design software and desktop machine tools. These tools are enabling more Americans to design and build almost anything,” Kalil and Miller write.

“Across the country, vibrant grassroots communities of innovators, visionaries and manufacturers are organizing Maker Faires, creating local Makerspaces and mentoring the next generation of inventors.”

According to the White House, the rise of the Maker Movement represents a huge opportunity for the United States, with new tools for democratized production boosting innovation and entrepreneurship in manufacturing.

Indeed, Making is capable of inspiring and empowering more young people to excel in design and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), as well as helping them pursue careers in manufacturing.

That’s why President Obama is hosting the first-ever White House Maker Faire today, with Makers, innovators and entrepreneurs of all ages showcasing their cutting-edge tools and projects.
 We at Atmel are proud to be at the very heart of the global Maker Movement, with Quin Etnyre and Super Awesome Sylvia (both sponsored by Atmel) attending the DC Faire.

Indeed, our microcontrollers (MCUs) power a wide range of open source platforms and devices, from 3D printers to wildly popular Arduino boards.

For us, every Maker Faire has always been the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth – a family-friendly venue of invention, creativity, resourcefulness and a celebration of DIY culture. Simply put, it’s a place where people of all ages and backgrounds gather together to show what they are making and share what they are learning, whether in Washington DC, New York, San Mateo or Shanghai.

Working together, we can prove that in America, the future really is what we make of it.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Jason Miller is Special Assistant to the President for Manufacturing Policy at the National Economic Council.

Eric Pan: From Seeed Studio to HAXLR8R

Born in Sichuan, China, Eric Pan (潘昊) graduated with an Electrical Engineering degree from Chongqing University. 

He founded the wildly popular Seeed Studio in July 2008 to help Makers transform their ideas into actual products, subsequently establishing the first organized Maker Community in Shenzhen. Known as Chua Huo, the MakerSpace facilitates interaction among DIY Makers, while encouraging dialogue and cooperation with both industry and academia.

Eric is understandably enthusiastic about the open source movement, as he also organized the Shenzhen Maker Faire and established the hardware incubation project “HAXLR8R” with Cyril Ebersweiler. In 2013, Eric was named one of the “Top 30 Entrepreneurs” in China by Forbes, which prominently featured the engineer on the magazine’s front cover.


Recently, the staff of Bits & Pieces had the opportunity to sit down with Pan for a wide-ranging interview covering a number of topics including the rapidly evolving open source movement, Atmel-basedArduino boards, Atmel-powered 3D printers such as RepRap, the Maker Movement and Shenzen, a major city in the south of Southern China’s Guangdong Province.

Bits & Pieces: 

How are Atmel-based Arduino boards and 3D printers such as RepRap helping to inspire the design and prototyping of new products in China?

RepRap Version 2 ‘Mendel’ (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

Eric Pan:

Hardware development has traditionally been perceived as a complex process, with a product lineup often taking years to improve and perfect. However, tools such as Atmel-based Arduino boards and 3D printers have significantly lowered the entry barrier for hardware innovation, thus creating a much wider playing field for DIY Makers. 

Indeed, over the past a few years, we’ve seen designers and Makers create prototypes and iron out issues in days and weeks, rather than months or even years.

Clearly, hardware development is becoming a more agile process with the aid of prototyping tools like RepRap and Arduino boards – both of which are helping to facilitate innovation across the world and particularly in China.

Bits & Pieces: What role do MakerSpaces and Universities play in setting technology trends for Chinese tech companies?

The Atmel-powered uARM (UFactory, Shenzhen, China)

Eric Pan: 
Universities have established links and collaborated on a number of projects with various Chinese tech companies, with many engaging in pioneering research. In addition, MakerSpaces have evolved into innovation hubs responsible for encouraging a diversity of ideas and products. 

Essentially, MakerSpaces act as a virtual bridge for cross-boundary conversations between industry and academic research. This enables constructive dialogue about issues which are typically overlooked. Personally, I believe niche market Maker platforms and devices are analogous to indie movies that provide the commercial film industry with a hotbed of new ideas.

MakerSpaces will likely enable a new wave of tech startups in China as in the US. To be sure, Makers working with their peers are now able to more easily realize their goals, while bringing products to market with new platforms such as e-commerce sites and crowdfunding. 

Nevertheless, major companies in China are somewhat cautious about encouraging grass-root innovations, even though some of them are actively involved in a collaborative dialogue with Makers as part of a strategic open innovation strategy. So for now, MakerSpaces are gradually helping Chinese tech companies discover additional possibilities, although the Maker role is likely to increase, with participants in the DIY culture setting technology trends in conjunction with major industries.

Bits & Pieces: The Maker Movement seems to be particularly active in Shenzen and Shanghai. Why do think this is?

Eric Pan: The most important factor is the intellectually fertile ground of the two locations. Shanghai is particularly active, first and foremost because of its foreigner base and natural Maker culture.

Local tech and art people are also enthusiastic about the trend, which helps bolster the DIY attitude. 

Meanwhile, Shenzhen has an established manufacture and supply based chain which is attractive to Makers from all over the world. If you look at the bigger picture, it is quite clear that these local two MakerSpaces have inspired a larger group of Makers and Makers-to-be across China. 

Unfortunately, the cost of living in both Shanghai and Shenzhen are too high for many Makers to realistically design and develop their products. As such, I hope to see more Makers gathers in smaller cities where the cost of living is somewhat lower and more amenable to a DIY crowd.

Bits & Pieces: What is the future of open source hardware and the Maker Movement in China? Does it face any specific hurdles?

Shenzhen (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

Eric Pan: 
There are currently a number of opinions being heard about the future of the Maker Movement in China. Nevertheless, one thing is for certain. The inherent entrepreneurial spirit of the Chinese people will help the Maker culture grow – and vice versa. 

The biggest hurdle, from what I can tell, may very well come from established educational facilities, simply because Chinese students expect to be trained in traditional methods when specific professional skills are required. 

However, exposure to multiple academic disciplines will encourage people to people think out of the box and explore different ways of approaching problems and opportunities. In addition, being asked more open-ended practical questions instead of simply memorizing facts would go a long way in encouraging students to try out real-world solutions.

Bits & Pieces: What can companies like Atmel do to help encourage the growth of the Maker Movement in China?

Eric Pan: Atmel has already played a very important role in engineering universities through its programs. The inspiring part is that art and design students are using Atmel chipsets which power Arduino boards – effectively building a bridge for major cooperation between Makers and the corporate world.

Continued support from Atmel for future Maker events will definitely contribute to the evolution and growth of the DIY movement in China. On the business side, hardware generated by Maker projects will also help encourage major industry players to create more varied products using Atmel microcontrollers and microprocessors. Last, but certainly not least, the direct involvement of Atmel engineers in local Maker communities will undoubtedly help nurture and grow the DIY movement across China.