If You're Curious About What the Next Technology Revolution Looks Like, Watch This Video On Neil Gershenfeld

Neil Gershenfeld - One of the Fathers of the maker movement

Neil Gershenfeld - One of the Fathers of the maker movement

  (note, the link to the interview is a couple scrolls down the page)

This guy is one of the fathers of the maker movement, but like many fathers, he wishes the best for his offspring and urges them to be the best that they can be.  There’s two points he poses about the maker movement that I think are critical, and which I want to start working towards a solution on.

1 - Maker Movement is for Amateurs

It’s true.  While the maker space that I happen to work in has some of the brightest, most talented, creative people I’ve ever met, and a huge amount of these folks have degrees from MIT and experience working in top engineering and design firms like Ideo, most people are doing things that they don’t know how to do on projects intended for themselves or their own, very similar consulting firms (I admit to this as well).

While people are brought together by this radical self-reliance, to me it seems like there is a lot of talent being put more or less to waste because people are not always communicating their dream projects and desires to one another or inviting other people to take part.  

What’s related and perhaps more important, (and which Mr. Gershenfeld describes quite well), is that people who are coming to makerspaces and fab labs have an easy time getting the most rudimentary instruction from online tutorials and books, but finding the resources to take the next steps is much more difficult.  

One idea I had while watching that video was to build an online space where people can collaborate on projects from all over the world.  Something like instructables, except instead of organizing instructables by category, this would be organized by project.  Another model to follow would be ----(stand by, looking up the name of this company), a software company with an open layout and rolly chairs, where anyone can roll around the company and work on anything that they want to work on.  Instead of rolly chairs and an office, we have the internet and the whole world.

I want to build a web platform where, if you have a project that you want to start working on, you can start blogging about your project and trying to get people to follow, help, and contribute.  There will be a system where people can donate to or invest in your project if they think that it is a worthwhile project, and you will be able to distribute the funds that get donated or the revenues that you generate from your product to different followers.  There will be no requirement to distribute the funds though (because I think that places where the honors code works are the highest integrity places on earth).

People commonly say that the best way to learn how to make something is to make it.  So much of this maker stuff is situational.  There are plenty of “beginner tutorials” but there is really no space to follow a big open sourced project from beginning to end.  Or if there is, I’ve never heard of it.  

Ideally, some of these projects would be worthwhile and blossom into real world solutions and companies.

One more rule though:  there is a moderation and quality control problem on instructables and other similar websites.  In order to post a new project on GWA, you have to be sponsored by somebody who has already posted a project.  That’s is, you’ve got to convince someone else who has been approved to post a project to approve you to do this same.  This way, there is a sort of viral mentorship.  

2 - First Project Proposals

I'll start.

I already mentioned one about an improved Water Desalinator here.  Ideally, a really easy-to-make one that can be assembled from junk.  (To be discussed in another article--DIY research: researching how to make amazing things using waste or everyday materials).

But the project that I want to propose here, and which is directly related to Gershenfeld’s interview is this:  I want to make a 3D printer that assembles reusable modules for assembly rather than the part itself.  Pieces almost like legos.  You would essentially have to whip up a couple of 3D printers or other fabrication technologies that make these modules, then you’d want to have an assembler that can put these things together.  So this second 3D printer is more like a higher level programming language, whereas the 3D printers that we’ve got today would be more like a lower level language that runs the higher level one.  Think assembly language and javascrip--same kind of relationship

The reason that this idea stemmed directly from the Mr. Gershenfeld’s interview is that, in the video, Gershenfeld talks about how a lot of what we call digital fabrication is not actually digital.  While a 3D printer may be run by a computer, the thing that it prints is anything but digital.  It’s a spool that’s getting dragged out in an analog manner, and after the part has served it’s funtion, it get’s tossed.  

Real digital fabrication, Mr. Gershenfeld says involves assembling structures from discrete, reusable components.  The project that I am proposing would do just that.