As a cool wind whipped across New York’s Flushing Meadows on the final Saturday of Summer, hordes of self-described nerds, hackers, and artists from around the globe streamed into the New York Hall of Science. They were bursting with ideas for changing the world, and brandishing circuit boards to prove it.
The second annual New York Maker Faire is the latest in a series of events that began in California in 2006, and have since expanded worldwide. Mitch Altman, a San Francisco resident who is one of the forefathers of the “do it yourself” movement, believes that the nascent creativity on display at the Faire will drive the economic sustainability of tomorrow.
“Do-it-yourself people have the ability, now more than ever, to make their projects go from a mere idea to a reality,” said Altman. “Regardless of what you love doing, you can find creative ways of starting a business with that, and hopefully make a living with that, and then hire people in your community that will help create localized economy that grows.”
One of the tools that is heightening innovation is an increasingly affordable device called a 3D printer, which dominated this year’s display tents. By generating successive layers of plastic, these machines allow hobbyists and small businesses to create an unlimited array of functional and artistic objects which, in the past, would have been prohibitively expensive to produce in small quantities.
Josef Prusa, who hails from the Czech Republic, designed his own variation of the RepRap 3D printer. “You can put one of these together for $600,” said Prusa, “which is amazing.”
A similar printer, MakerBot, goes for $1,300 as a kit. A small printed figurine uses about 50 cents worth of plastic.
But despite the promise of lounging at home and printing whatever strikes your fancy, the breadth of the Faire makes it obvious that there’s a social aspect to innovation. Makers refer to their approach as “open source,” which was once solely a term for software, but is now applied to engineering and industrial design as well.
For example, Diatom’s open source SketchChair allows people to design their own chairs and improve on others’, culminating in the creation of a disassembled piece of furniture fashioned with a computer-controlled router (CNC). The project was funded on Kickstarter, a site where users pool their money to support independent projects which might otherwise die on the vine.
“Having this framework where you can involve end users in the development process,” said Diatom’s Tiago Rorke, “really opens up the possibilities to projects like this.”
If these pieces of the puzzle sound unfamiliar, it’s because they are very recent innovations. This may account for the pervasive feeling among makers of all ages that they are on the cusp of a revolution.
“I just started to do cool things,” said Prusa. “My understanding of the open source culture came after that, and since then I evangelize open source in the Czech Republic.” Prusa’s 3D printer reflects his philosophy; it can be used to print most of its own parts, effectively allowing it to reproduce.
“There’s a whole community of people sharing and helping one another, online and in person,” said Altman. “We love helping each other; it really is a warm community.”
The New York Maker Faire wrapped up on September 18. For more information on upcoming events, visit http://makerfaire.com/.