Makerspace How professional is the Maker community?

Sander Arts, Atmel: »Suddenly people who have innovative ideas have the tools to do that.«
Sander Arts, Atmel: »Suddenly people who have innovative ideas have the tools to do that.«

More and more companies are launching Maker hardware and tools. Is this genuine rapid prototyping or just gimmickry? We asked Sander Arts of Atmel who, with Arduino, have introduced one of the most popular Maker platforms on the market.

Why did the Maker Community gain so much popularity over the recent years?

Sander Arts: The Maker movement is a natural evolution of the do-it-yourself (DIY) and hand-crafted approach that has appealed to many people over the years. The difference now is technology. Suddenly people who have innovative ideas for how to improve the world have the tools to do that. Technology like Arduino lets anyone—even people with no technical background—create sophisticated microcontroller-based devices. And platforms like Indiegogo and Kickstarter let those Makers take their products directly to the markets that want them and are willing to fund them. Makers are also reaching out to their community for feedback as they perfect their creations—sharing their projects across outlets such as Hackaday and Instructables, which are now being picked up frequently by mainstream media including Mashable, TechCrunch, CNET, and others.

How would you define a "Maker"? Which level of education does he or she have? Which knowledge of programming languages? Can he or she read a circuit diagram? 

Arts: Makers can be anyone—artists, musicians, hobbyists, teachers, even children. Just look at Quin Etnyre, who was invited to attend and teach at the first Maker Faire at the White House when he was just twelve years old, and already has his own Kickstarter-funded business. There are YouTube videos of him giving classes at MIT. For non-technical Makers, there are many modular ‘build your own devices’ kits such as Google’s Project Ara for building modular smartphones and the BLOCKS smart watch kit, and there are other DIY solutions, including littleBits, Microduino, and Modulo. All of these make it easy for almost anyone to become a Maker using modular graphical tools that follow the approach of toys like Lego or K’Nex. And, Arduino is also sophisticated and extensible enough for engineers and professional product developers to use for prototyping. Then they can migrate using Atmel’s Studio 7 or easily import those projects into professional debugging environments from microcontroller vendors who also offer software libraries, reference applications, and integrated hardware platforms to take their project into production. 

Is there a strict separation between Makers and product design in traditional enterprises, done by professional engineers? Or: How professional is the Maker community? 

Arts: Makers can certainly be found in traditional enterprises, where consumer demand is pushing development teams to create new feature-rich products faster and more cost-effectively. Silicon providers have made significant investments to help engineers meet these demands, and that combination of integrated hardware and development tools helps them quickly create proof-of-concept designs for new high-tech products. But the real power of those tools is that they bridge the gap between hobbyists and professional product developers. You just have to look at the hundreds of funded Maker companies, from Kickstarter and Indiegogo through traditional funding sources, to see how professional the Maker community can be.