Despite a flood of technologies that makes it possible to get, well, just about anything at the touch of a button, there’s an analog revolution brewing in America: the Maker Movement.
For too long we’ve allowed our obsession with convenience to rob us of skills that truly matter in this world — the ability to see something in our mind, and then make it with our hands. Our grandparents knew how to build or repair just about anything, and it allowed them to be resilient in tough times. Once thought to be lost, this quest for self-sufficiency and creativity is fueling a new generation of makers, and they just gained a pretty important fan.
On June 18, President Obama hosted the first-ever White House Maker Faire, an event meant to celebrate the vibrant grassroots communities of inventors, visionaries and manufacturers now using new technologies to democratize production and boost innovation.
“I am proud to host the first-ever White House Maker Faire,” President Obama said in a proclamation that made June 18 the National Day of Making. “This event celebrates every maker — from students learning STEM skills to entrepreneurs launching new businesses to innovators powering the renaissance in American manufacturing. I am calling on people across the country to join us in sparking creativity and encouraging invention in their communities.”
As you might imagine, booth space was highly coveted by Makers eager to show off their creations to our Commander-in-Chief. Although not everyone could be invited, the White House Maker Faire still featured over 100 Makers from more than 25 states, and included over 30 exhibits from colleges and universities, libraries and cities around the country.
Projects at the White House Maker Faire included:
A $5 Chemistry Set for the 21st Century designed by Manu Prakash, of Palo Alto, Calif. Inspired by the music box, this small but powerful invention could enable schoolchildren from low-income communities to not only learn about science and engineering but explore and address real-world issues like water quality and contamination.
Robotic Giraffe designed by Lindsay Lawlor, of San Diego, Calif. The 17-foot-tall, 2200-lb robotic giraffe “walks” on wheels and is powered by a 12-horsepower hybrid fuel-engine motor. Lawlor says it’s an example of how making, engineering and design, combined with the arts, can bring science, technology, engineering and math to a wide-variety of audiences.
DIY Balloons to Map Your Community presented by Public Lab, a non-profit DIY environmental science community. Working with the Gowanus Canal Conservacy, their grassroots maps have not only assisted in the cleanup of the site, but also identified a potential Revolutionary War cemetery, buried under the Superfund landfill.
Smart, Eco-Friendly Urban Furniture for the Digital Age designed by the startup Changing Environments out of MIT. Sandra and her team designed a solar-powered bench, or a “soofa,” that allows people to charge their phones while stopping for a quick rest. The soofa is part of a larger effort to create dual-purpose modular furniture that also serve as hubs for charging electronic devices and sensing local environmental conditions.
Legos for the iPad Generation presented by (my friend!) Krystal Persaud of the NYC-based company LittleBits. To build a circuit with littlebits, all you do is snap together the magnetic, color coded modules – no programming, soldering or wiring required. You can connect power modules to inputs (buttons, sensors, triggers, dimmers, etc.), outputs (motors, lights, sounds, etc.), or your computer, to create robots, synthesizers, household gadgets and more.
The White House Maker Faire was the catalyst for even more exciting announcements from the Obama Administration. Among them:
The Small Business Administration is targeting additional support to startup accelerators that help Maker-entrepreneurs. The Small Business Administration, through its $2.5M Accelerator competition, will encourage communities to include startup accelerators and Maker spaces for entrepreneurs in their regional entrepreneurship strategies.
The Department of Education is launching a “make over” challenge to accelerate the pace at which career and technical education (CTE) classrooms are redesigned to meet the needs of manufacturing in the 21st century.
The Smithsonian will launch a five-year Making Initiative, with the mission of using the Smithsonian’s vast collections and deep expertise, along with facilitators, mentors and digital resources, to help makers of all ages learn about the past, understand the challenges of today, and imagine the future.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) is developing new ways to encourage Making as part of its commitment to expand access to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects for all students.
Image via WhiteHouse.gov