We live in a time when so few people can make such a big difference. I was fortunate to experience this firsthand when we launched an education software company with a handful of people in 2012. Though there were too few of us to field a baseball team, there were just enough to launch a product that began helping educators and students in thousands of schools in just six months. Advances in technology, like increased Internet access and decreased online storage costs, made it possible.
Yet the last ten years’ virtual innovations may pale in comparison to their physical counterparts in the next decade. Robotics, 3D printing, and electronics assembly are allowing us to mico-manufacture, that is, to engage in just-in-time making and problem solving. Chris Anderson former Editor-in-Chief of Wired and author of Makers explains: “The past ten years have been about discovering new ways to create, invent, and work together on the Web. The next ten years will be about applying those lessons to the real world.”
It’s about focusing in on one person, in the hope that the solution may help many. Here are some inspiring examples from the vanguard of the maker movement:
- A small team of makers traveled to the Sudan with 3D printers. After fitting several residents of the war-torn region with printed prosthetic limbs, they taught residents how to use the printers to meet the needs of thousands more. These printed limbs fit better, cost less, and were made more quickly than what they’d had.
- Believing that no blind person should have to pay thousands of dollars for a braille printer, a 12-year-old boy built one at one-sixth the cost using a set of robotics from a Lego kit called Mindstorms. He “rigged the Lego robot to make little raised dots on a piece of paper and then programmed it to make those dots correspond to the Braille alphabet.” His instructions are open source — available to anyone.
- A small team of programmers and designers built an EyeWriter so that Tony “Tempt One” Quan, a graffiti artist derailed by ALS could speak to his family and friends after eight years of silence. More makers have taken on the challenge to build an EyeWriter that runs on brain waves, as Tony loses his ability to blink.
This kind of making harkens back to a pre-industrial age. It’s about starting with one person and one problem — a child whose hand is blown off in a war, a blind person who can’t afford a Braille printer, or a graffiti artist with ALS who wants to talk to his family – and “crowdsolving” a solution that gets made and then shared via open source, so anyone can use it. The maker movement can empower us to
- make a difference
- effect change
- connect with other makers and problem solvers
- learn, explore and discover
- help one to help many