MAKING a better world?

This post is part of a series about Governing Emerging Technologies that I’m writing for a UCL course of the same name.

Last month, I was fortunate to visit Rome for the first time. I was there to present a UCL project I am involved in – Darwin Toolbox – at the European Maker Faire.

Maker Faires, MAKE magazine, and the world wide growth of Fab Labs (Fabrication Laboratories), including UCL’s own Institute of Making, are all part of the wider Maker Movement, a currently trendy form of DIY and DIWO – do it yourself and do it with others. Making has blossomed especially around technologies such as home 3D printing, and accessible “maker-friendly” microcontrollers.

The Maker Movement is at the heart of user-centric innovation. In Democratising Innovation, Eric von Hippel asserts that technology developed by users usually has a better market-fit. This does not sound surprising. Indeed, MIT‘s Neil Gershenfeld, one of the pioneers of “personal fabrication”, has described the “killer app” of Making to be the process of creating products for the “market of one”, ie. a truly personal product. This is maybe best exemplified by the current obsession in 3D Printing – at the Maker Faire in Rome alone there seemed to have been hundreds. These days when “3D Printing” comes up in conversations it strikes me as having an symbolic quality. A 3D printer turns into an almost magical device, akin to a replicator from Star Trek. Continue reading