Laen Founder OSH Park


Osborn: People talk about the “maker movement”  and what that is, and if you ask five people what it is, you would probably get five different answers. How would you describe it

Laen: I think it’s simply a desire to scratch an itch that’s now been made pos- sible due to these personal prototyping abilities that we have. Like 3D printers are now commonplace in the maker community  and laser cutters and C&C mills. Things that were very difficult to do yourself twenty years ago are now becoming easy, and I think that’s opening up a lot of possibilities in a lot of peo- ple’s minds. Where you at one point would have to say,“Well, the dishwasher broke. Bummer. We’re going to have to spend a bunch for a repairman.” Now you can say,“Hmmm. I can do some measurements and 3D print my own part, and replace it and make it better.” You can redo all the design mistakes that other people have made in your life and make an improved  thing that you can share with others.

Osborn: There seems to be this huge insurgence of crowd-funded projects. There’s talk all day about the Teensy 3, the Digistump, and then the consumer products, like the Ouya game console. A lot of which are a line of things that wouldn’t have ever made it to market before. A couple  years ago, if you were to say you were making an open gaming console on an ARM chip to sell and compete with Nintendo, it would  be laughable. This is something people would snicker at—like, “Sure you will.” And then they raise $9 million on Kickstarter. Now they have this capital to go out and do it. Money that they’ve raised because they have the backgrounds and expertise, and people believed in it.I’m wondering:Where this goes from there? Do we see more of those types of projects, or do you see consumers  buying more and more products that are produced in people’s  garages, and grassroots manufacturing via crowd funding?

Laen: I hope so. I think that a lot of things become easy when you spread out the work. I think that there are just a lot of products  that have a much smaller audience and that you would never get a manufacturer  to agree to twenty years ago. Now you can say, “You know what? I’m going to make it, and I’m going to see if people like it. If they do, I can grow organically and expand to do new things.” And that just wasn’t as possible back when you had to convince an investor. Now you can either convince  a lot of “backers,” who want noth- ing more than the cool project you’re making, or you can just do little onesies, twosies, and sell them on Tindie7  and see if there’s an interest—and show that there’s an interest—to  make larger runs. I think that’s really exciting.

Osborn: There are a lot of new technologies. There are like one hundred 3Dprinter companies now.

Laen: The Maker Faire last year was replete with them.

Osborn: I was at TechShop yesterday  and saw a company  called Type A Machines8  that builds things like the size of a Volkswagen. I’m exaggerating— but it’s like the size of a small…

Laen: Table?

Osborn: It’s about the size of a small coffee  table  with a massive,  massive build platform. It’s a beast, but again, it’s one of dozens.

Laen: Hundreds. And the stuff like Shapeways, with the really high-end 3D powder printers, where they throw down the layer of powder and “Zut- zut-zut-zut-zut-zut,” melt down the layer very quickly, with a really decent resolution.

Osborn: The cool thing about that technology  is that as they are printing it, they can lay down color pigment, and so you have a full-color object. One cool thing I saw at TechShop9  was this massive water jet capable of cutting eight-inch-thick steel. Not new technology by any means, but now it’s available to me for a few bucks a month. I have no use for that, but the fact that that’s available to me is amazing.

Laen: Yeah, knowing  that it’s  there opens up a  lot of possibilities in your mind.

Osborn: Right, you’re no longer limited by the tools in your garage.

Laen: Right now I don’t have  a laser  cutter, but I can send something  off to Ponoko and have it back in a week and make whatever  I want. I made  a little scanner table that you put your iPhone on top of to get better images of documents. I think it cost me $50. It’s cut out of nice wood that’s joined together. You put the phone on top, and it’s an instant document scanner that folds away.

Osborn: I think there’s a Kickstarter project for that, and it was like $50 and it was made out of cardboard. I’m like, “I’m not going to pay $50 for a cardboard box.”

Laen: “Give me the PDF and I’ll order it myself,” in a polymer  or an acrylic or something.

Osborn: Plus, you would get it on time since it’s  not a  Kickstarter proj- ect.10 Something in that realm that I find really interesting  is Thingiverse.11

This repository for printable objects, which to me is an amazing thing, but creates  a bit of controversy. A lot of people are worried about the IP around a 3D object, like, “What happens if I go and scan a 3D object and print it?” Something people haven’t really had to deal with before  because of the cost.

Laen: The cost of actually replicating something.  Yeah, now there’s software for using your smartphone for scanning and—ta-da!—you  have a pixel map that you can then print yourself. There was something on the news just a few days ago about that.

Osborn: For people who are new to this maker culture, what would you say is the best way for someone to get plugged into the maker thing and start learning things? What would be the recommended thing for people to do?

Laen: I really love the new Adafruit learning system.12  I think that’s  a really awesome curriculum.  They’ve gone to some pains to address people who are interested in making stuff with really fun and relevant projects. They’re very well documented, so you’re not going to fail your first time. It will give you some of that early confidence that you need when starting something new. Then it will give you lots of stuff to build on.You work up to more advanced projects.

Osborn: I’ve seen some “beginner  tutorials” that were only a little more high-level than a data sheet. It was like, “Here’s some code that doesn’t even compile. Good luck.”

Laen: For  beginners, you need to have  those early confidence  builders. There’s  a lot to learn from failure, but in order to learn that, you’re going to need some confidence early on. It’s tough.We have people in Dorkbot who come in and  say, “Hey! I’ve got this idea for this cool thing I want to do. I want to hook this Dance, Dance Revolution pad up to the computer.” And the other Dorkbotters are like, “All right, well,10Kickstarter projects are notorious for shipping late because many teams underestimate the time it will take to deliver  a product.here’s an Arduino.” What they really need is someone to walk them through hooking it up and writing those first few lines of code. They have their first project and could really use the hand of somebody to get this first one going, more hands-on learning, because this is their first electronics project. It’s not a doozie, but it’s a good one. This is how I felt in elementary school electronics class,“Okay, so I got the 555 timer blinking  a light. Now what?” Then not being able to build past that.

Osborn: The new Adafruit learning system is pretty great, but it is hasn’t been around for a long time.

Laen: Yeah, for me it was the MAKE videos—I’m not even sure they still make them, but was it Thursday maker videos, or something like that. I forget what the name was exactly.