On Thursday morning, the sky was covered in Milan, but when you are at Fuorisalone basically you do not notice. And if you have only 10 hours to see everything there is to see, you might as well choose a location on the map and start from there. In this case, the finger fell on the exhibitions in the area of Ventura Lambrate. Luckily in those areas there was even the Barcamper, which is gearing up ahead of the European tour in search of makers.
Kentstrapper is the nickname used by the Cantinis, a family of makers based in Florence who told their story to World Wide Rome last year. After their experience with the Archimedes and Galileo printers, the time has come to give a name to their “new entry” that has just been launched at the Milan Design Week. But this time, the makers decided to use the social media. Who suggests the best name wins the new 3D printer and a good dose of glory.
There are many useful projects for makers, but this one also comes with a slice of Italy. It is called Udoo and is, in practice, a true and proper open source computer. For a little over 100 dollars you can take home a fully programmable device compatible with Arduino. USB connections, audio channels, WiFi, Ethernet and 1 GB of RAM. It allows you to do everything, and has a Linux and Android operating system.
Udoo is a hardware “gym” for developers, hackers and first-time programmers. The idea works, as has been proven by the crowdfunding campaign launched on Kickstarter. In just two days, it raised the 27 thousand dollars required for that first objective: to start the prototyping process and present the finished product in September 2013.
The project has many redeeming features. First of all, Udoo brings together a team of developers from cities around the world, including Siena, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Aarhus. Interaction designers, developers and computer experts have put in their all to break down the barriers between programming and real life.
Arduino is already an excellent platform for makers, creative artists and DIY enthusiasts, but with the inclusion of a computer that can be connected to any peripheral device, things start to get even more interesting. From the control of touch and movement sensors you can go directly on to hack into a device to convert it into a four-wheeled monitoring system that can be remote controlled via the Internet.
There are questions that are difficult to answer. For example, which is the most affordable 3D scanner available on the market? Or, how do you print large-size objects? How do you fine-tune the details of creations printed with ABS plastic?
Online you will find hundreds of tips, tutorials and forums to exchange ideas, but if you prefer a ready-made solution it’s best to look on crowdfunding websites. On platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, you’ll find in projects in the financing stage that might give you the solution you’ve been looking for. Here are five ideas to keep an eye on.
The new industrial revolution of the makers is under way, but that doesn’t mean it won’t run into obstacles. Printing objects in 3D in any corner of the globe by drawing on online projects is a great achievement, but this kind of innovation might collide with the legal protection safeguarded by patents. The issue is serious enough, and in the United States there is already someone who has is working to throw some light on the subject – the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) which, for more than 20 years, has been dealing with issues related to technology rights in all their forms.
The goal is this: make sure that the new patents filed in the United States don’t cut the makers off from techniques and processes that are part of common heritage. In fact, if you can demonstrate the existence of a previous implementation (called “prior art”) of an idea, this invalidates the patent. In practice, if the Patent Office discovers that a product or a process is public and already in use it cancels the patent application.
Reporting the existence of “prior art” can also be done by people outside the Patent Office, but there are very specific time windows for doing so. To find your way in this task, the EFF has therefore supported the Ask Patents project, an online platform where users with expertise in patent issues give advice to anyone who asks a sensible question on the patentability of ideas and products. The idea is to identify all the patent applications that raise questions and answer them before the application deadline.
However, there is also the other side of the coin. All it takes is a computer connected to the Internet, modelling software and a 3D printer to successfully reproduce any object covered by patents already in force. For now, three-dimensional printing has not yet forced businesses to close, but once this technology has entered all homes, some companies might start to worry.
Nevertheless, not all companies are intimidated by the advance of the DIY movement. There are also some cases of opening up towards the new technology used by the makers, as shown by the proposal of John Kneeland, Community & Developer Marketing Manager of Nokia:
In the future, I envision wildly more modular and customizable phones. Perhaps in addition to our own beautifully-designed phones, we could sell some kind of phone template, and entrepreneurs the world over could build a local business on building phones precisely tailored to the needs of his or her local community. You want a waterproof, glow-in-the-dark phone with a bottle-opener and a solar charger? Someone can build it for you—or you can print it yourself!
For a broader overview on makers and patents, read this interesting article published in Make magazine. In the United States the attention is high, but what about Europe?