When a co-worker at my summer internship first said the word “hacker” earlier this summer, I pictured an evil spy breaking into government computers to steal important data and bank passwords from innocent civilians. Two months ago, I had never heard of the maker movement or hackerspaces, and I kind of thought 3D printers were a mystical piece of technology that were more toy than revolutionary tool.
All of these thoughts quickly changed in May when I started a strategic communication internship with Union Station in Kansas City. I was asked to help with an event called Maker Faire KC (Yet another unfamiliar term), and I quickly realized I needed to learn everything I could about this unfamiliar tech/business/creative community or simply pretend to know what my co-workers were talking about for the rest of the summer. The first option seemed like a lot more fun, and so my adventure into this unfamiliar world began. I started posting blogs for Maker Faire KC’s website, previewing a handful of the 300+ makers attending Maker Faire KC (think inventors, crafters, builders and creators showing off projects at a huge show-and-tell type event), and updating the event’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Soon I was explaining Tesla coils to my friends and researching information about startup companies like Maker’s Row for fun. The community and maker movement that started with MAKE Magazine and Maker Media and spread to Maker Faires across the country, had me excited about my hometown of Kansas City and a community of people I wanted to get to know and write about. Even though I am pursuing journalism and not a STEM field, I learned a great number of lessons from Maker Faire KC and the maker movement as a whole.
Here are some of my top takeaways from Maker Faire KC and the maker movement:
1. You’re never too old to feel like a kid.
Kansas City hackerspace, Cowtown Computer Congress,’ race vehicle blew two tires on the first day of the Power Racing Series. The team quickly replaced the tires of the vehicle that resembles the kind of car a 5-year-old would seem more likely to drive than a team of young adults. The “power” in Power Racing Series originates more from the kind of vehicle the teams use more than anything else. That’s because each team creates its race vehicle from a power wheels car. The team’s vehicle, created all for under $500, averaged 17 to 20 second lap times and traveled at 14 to 15 mph around the track. The hackerspace was one of 10 teams at Maker Faire KC to race vehicles made for speed, well vehicles reinvented for speed, that is. Even though the competition uses vehicles seemingly best suited for toddlers, the Power Racing Series reflects the magic of the maker movement as a whole: Anything can be made useful and tinkering is always encouraged. One of the members of CCCKC said it best:
“It doesn’t matter what you make because if you come here (to Maker Faire KC) it’s everything,” Scott Mehl said. “I would say just get out there and make something. It doesn’t matter what.”
2. There’s no such thing as “too young.”
Young maker Joey Hudy has met President Barack Obama, won numerous engineering awards and started his own business, and this year Business Insider named Joey one of the 10 smartest kids in the world. In the week leading up to Maker Faire KC Joey and another Union Station intern made a 3D body scanner using an XBOX Kinect in two days. Sylvia Todd, known as Super Awesome Sylvia, is another example. Sylvia has met the president, presented at a White House Science Fair, created a popular YouTube series and won numerous awards before her 12th birthday. Sylvia showed off her WaterColorBot at Maker Faire KC. I talked to Ted Brull, an 11-year-old business owner who makes clocks from repurposed computer parts, about how he got started. Ted, who is from Kansas City, started Ted Clocks after seeing his grandfather create similar clocks. Ted takes apart computers, designs bases and laser cuts parts for the clocks. Ted had a few words of advice for other kids interested in making.
“They should learn more about starting their own business,” Ted Brull said. “They should start taking apart computers and see what’s inside and see what they can do with it.”
I don’t know about you but young people like Joey, Sylvia and Ted inspire me to try the impossible. After all, they’ve achieved their dreams, and they don’t even have driver’s licenses yet!
3. Resources are all around you.
There’s nothing quite like feeling part of a community, and the KC Startup Village has harnessed the best aspects of innovation, creation and support in Kansas City, Kan., since Google Fiber came to the community in 2011. Local Ruckus, a KC Startup Village startup that recommends local events based on location, exemplified the importance of community at Maker Faire KC. The company encourages residents to “do the local thing” by getting off their couches and exploring the community. The startup which shares a space with Leap2, a new kind of search engine, has resulted from successful community collaboration and, in turn, has encouraged the community to share information as well.
“You’re surrounded by all of the motivated and talented people that want to create jobs and bolster their community,” Local Ruckus team member Stephanie Holm said.
4. The impossible is within your reach.
Before the 3D printer, prototyping was an expensive and serious operation. A number of makers at Maker Faire KC showed off 3D printers and tools changing the way creation happens. The traveling maker studio, MAKEwithMOTO, brought 3D printers and laser cutting tools for attendees to use on-site. Over the course of the weekend several makers had turned concepts into prototypes at the truck. SeeMeCNC-3D Printers and More from Indiana showed off 3D printers that could be purchased for only $1,000. QU-BP 3D Printing and CNC Milling from Little Rock, Ark., brought 3D printers, the fastest in the world they said, that could print 450 to 500 mm per second at top speed. The 3D printers are invaluable for the 10 percent of entrepreneurs using them, QU-BP designer Nathan Myers said.
“It allows you to go from an idea to a real product in minutes,” Myers said.
These are the stories from just a few of the makers at Maker Faire KC in 2013. Almost all of them could be considered some type of hacker. The maker community is overflowing with intelligent and driven people looking to improve technology, business and communities. They are “hacking” standard processes and finding more efficient, cheaper and creative ways to accomplish just about anything. Maker or not, lessons can be learned from this kind of creative spirit. We all need to hear that there is no problem too big to fix and no limit on trying, tinkering and exploring.