This past March at South by Southwest Interactive, I stumbled across an interesting trend which seems to be gaining a lot of momentum. The first keynote conversation of the conference was hosted by Phillip Torrone and Limor Fried, two engineers/hackers at the forefront of the “maker” movement. The term maker is really just a hip description for someone who is a do-it-yourselfer, particularly in the realm of projects that have some sort of electronics/robotics component.
Makers have always been around, and you could easily distinguish them from other non-maker folks by the amount of time they spent in Radio Shack. When I was growing up as a nerdling (trading software for my Apple IIc with friends instead of baseball cards), I dabbled in the hardware world too but found that software/coding was a lot more accessible.
That appears to be changing rapidly, and largely due to a renewed interest in how automation is penetrating our home life. Torrone is involved with a new magazine called Make and an offshoot convention tour called the Makers’ Faire, which features work from makers and hobbyists. In his keynote, he outlined how the company iRobot, makers of the popular Roomba vacuuming robot, had found that so many people had started to buy Roombas and hack them (i.e. making them do much more than vacuum) that they released a special version of the Roomba just for “developers.”
Separately, a growing legion of hackers are spending time trying to work on taking the successful open source software approach into hardware. A few exciting startups are focused on building flexible open source hardware components that are easy to use (for those of us who pale at the thought of using a soldering iron) and allow for a great deal of creativity. Most notably, Bug Labs has been in the tech press with their “bug” components which will likely have a big 2008.
Could this be the resurgence of the local Radio Shack?