Monday, October 8, 2012

Anderson, Makers

Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired magazine, best-selling author of The Long Tail, and founder of 3D Robotics, is back with another book, Makers: The New Industrial Revolution (Crown Business, 2012). The basic premise of this book is that micro-manufacturing, where tinkerers use computer resources to make physical things once again, will be the next big movement driving Western economies.

Over the past two decades the Web lowered the barriers to entry for would-be entrepreneurs in the digital space; they are now “ankle-high.” But although the Web’s model of democratized innovation spurred entrepreneurship and economic growth and bits forever changed the world, we live “mostly in the world of atoms, also known as the Real World of Places and Stuff. … [T]he world of atoms is at least five times larger than the world of bits.” (pp. 8-9) Today, thanks to a new class of “rapid prototyping” technologies, from 3-D printers to laser cutters, we’re starting to see a democratization of innovation in atoms. Welcome to the Maker Movement.

The Maker Movement shares three transformative characteristics: “1. People using digital desktop tools to create designs for new products and prototype them (‘digital DIY’). 2. A cultural norm to share those designs and collaborate with others in online communities. 3. The use of common design file standards that allow anyone, if they desire, to send their designs to commercial manufacturing services to be produced in any number, just as easily as they can fabricate them on their desktop.” (p. 21)

Once the Maker Movement is firmly entrenched it’s but a short hop to the Third Industrial Revolution. “[T]he Third Industrial Revolution is best seen as the combination of digital manufacturing and personal manufacturing: the industrialization of the Maker Movement.” (p. 41)

Entrepreneurs will produce bespoke products that serve individual needs. These products will increasingly be produced “using digital manufacturing where there is no cost to complexity and no penalty for short production runs.” (p. 68) The Third Industrial Revolution will ratchet up Adam Smith’s notion of specialization as the key to an efficient market.

Anderson describes some of the technology currently available to budding entrepreneurs, fabrication shops, sources of funding, and marketplaces for selling products. He tries to inspire the reader: “what starts as a hobby can become a mini-empire.” For those who do in fact become inspired, he has an appendix listing some main tools in the 21st-century workshop. For the DIYer it’s all really cool stuff. Alas, I know my limitations. I’ll let someone else buy the Picoscope USB oscilloscope and the Saleae USB logic analyzer.

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