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Makery Aims to Make More Makers

June 1st, 2011 by Ryan Ozawa · 1 Comment · Education, Technology

In recent years, there’s been a resurgence of enthusiasm for do-it-yourself projects, particularly with an engineering or technical bent. Though it may inspire visions of Rube Goldberg contraptions and accidental electrocutions, the vibrant movement is growing fast, celebrated at annual Maker Faire events (organized by the publishers of Make Magazine) as a “showcase of invention, creativity, and resourcefulness.”

And the power and potential for hands-on design and creation is not lost to educators… especially when traditional vocational training programs like woodshop have all but vanished.

Television icon Mike Rowe recently testified before a senate committee on “The Skills Gap,” noting that entire categories of critical professions are being marginalized, to the peril of our nation’s ability to build and innovate. But with the shift toward high tech and a “knowledge-based economy,” how can the next generation be exposed to, let alone be enticed to explore, the sometimes dirty and dusty side of life?

Enter “The Makery,” a program based at the University of Hawaii and built upon The Archimedes Project, which relocated to UH from Stanford University in 2003. Originally focused on accessibility devices for the disabled, the program has evolved into a more broad and ambitious one. “The Makery” is now developing a set of hardware and software that can be quickly and affordably deployed to schools and communities.

A “makery” has been described as a 3-D version of a copy shop, where people can bring their own designs and materials but have access to specialized tools and equipment to build something. In geek speak, the facilities would support “rapid prototyping.” But rather than using high-end, proprietary 3-D printing systems, the makery setup relies on hackable open-source computer code and basic machinery that can be assembled on the spot.

The concept and toolset is just starting to spread in Hawaii, with pilot programs in place in a few charter schools on the neighbor islands. In Waikiki, a small shop invites visitors to build their own ‘ukulele before learning to play them. A community makery is being established at the Palolo Community Learning Center. And a new program was just announced last month in which students on Lanai would learn to both build and play Hawaiian instruments.

The potential of the makery concept in both education and in community revitalization is huge. And there’s no need to concede the world of manufacturing to other corners of the globe. As co-founder Kevin Gill told me, “Why teach our kids to play with LEGO and other pre-built kits to make their robots, when we can teach them to make their own parts to make their robots?”

If every student, or budding entrepreneur, had easy access to technology and space to design and create, the possibilities are endless. Manufacturing ‘ukulele is just the beginning.

Some in the greater maker community have even suggested that as paper books continue to fall from favor, workbenches and tools could start to replace them in neighborhood libraries. With circuit boards and motors on their shelves, they could continue to be incubators for knowledge and innovation.

If you’d like to learn more about “The Makery” and the maker movement, Burt Lum and I will be talking to co-founder Neil Scott and charter school head John Thatcher today on Bytemarks Cafe. Tune into KIPO 89.3FM today at 5 p.m., or watch for a recording of the show to be posted online in the next day or so.

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