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What the Makers said at the White House

In the United States the Makers are taken seriously. The government knows that this is a movement that is capable of revolutionising key sectors of the country (education, production and innovation) and so it keeps a close eye on them. Given that it’s worth having a chat about the subject, Tom Kalil – Obama’s innovation advisor – thought it a good idea to invite some of the top exponents of DIY to a public hangout on Google.

Yes, a live video chat with the White House. It was an informal meeting to get to understand how to revolutionise the manufacturing sector in the USA and to cultivate the creative talents of the future. The point is, that even for an economic super power like the United States the saying: “it doesn’t matter who you are, because many of the most brilliant people in the world work for someone else” still applies. Getting back to the hangout, this is who was there and what was said.
Saul Griffith provided his visionary contribution talking about real ideas currently under development at Otherlab. It is his R&D laboratory that involves itself with web platforms, robotics and the tools for democratising access to the Makers movement. For Griffith the Makers movement has become more accessible, above all thanks to the constant fall in the prices of computers: if a decade ago you needed $2000 to get the right processing power, all you need now is just a few hundred. But what provided the final impetus was the ecosystem of services like Kickstarter, Shapeways and O-Desk, which supports users every step of the way through the creative process.

To confirm this there was Tara Tiger Brown, co-founder of LA Makerspace. This is a space for Makers that was launched from the bottom as a “family friendly” environment. An open workshop where families can meet to share tools and know-how. It all began thanks to the first programming courses and to the crowdfunding campaigns. Now there is a growing network that wants to share its resources even with schools, libraries and museums.

Another testimony was provided by Sylvia, the young, 11-year-old Maker who three years ago launched a hugely successful DIY show on YouTube. Her father was there too and he said that he had aroused his daughter’s passion the Makers’ universe when she was six. The idea of keeping her away from Arduino and 3D printing seemed absurd. The result: during the hangout Sylvia demonstrated a machine for creating watercolour paintings, used at that very same moment to reproduce the White House logo.

Venkatesh Prasad, Ford‘s technical chief, spoke for the business side. He brought along the example of Tech Shop, the creative spaces scattered around the United States where it is possible to put one’s creativity to the text. It is a point of reference for all those who want start getting their hands dirty and don’t know where to find the right tools. Taking out a monthly subscription makes it possible to access machinery, tools, material and know-how for creating something DIY style.

Also taking part in the discussions was Dale Dougherty, founder of Make Magazine. According to him, being a Maker means so many things: there are those that associate the idea with DIY electronics or 3D printing, others more simply to handicrafts or the making of homemade food. Ultimately, it is a way of becoming producers and not just consumers. Overturning the paradigms is easy: Dougherty used the example of children who during the Maker Faire asked in amazement how they could become Makers. Oddly enough – he said – the tools you need are all out there, you just need to be able to make them available. And the first step is precisely this: to take Makerspaces to school.

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