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Science and Technology

Exploradio - A tour of maker culture
'Makers' are part of a new movement that combines high-tech with hands-on, as people rediscover the joys of making things.
This story is part of a special series.

Reporter / Host
Jeff St. Clair
A sign at Akron's hackerspace SYN/HAK invites people to explore the world of maker culture. The club is one of around 150 hackerspaces in the U.S.
Courtesy of Jeff St.Clair
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Desktop publishing revolutionized the world of printing in the 1980’s. In the 90’s, digital recording changed the way music is made. Now, 3-D printers are making desktop manufacturing a reality.

In this week’s Exploradio, we take a tour of maker culture in Northeast Ohio.  It’s a movement that combines high tech with old fashioned do-it-yourself creativity.

Exploradio - A tour of maker culture

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Sharing the urge to hack 
Our first stop is SYN/HAK, Akron's hackerspace. 

It’s actually Trever Fischer’s garage - a place where people come to make things.

Fischer explains that hackers are people who make something new using a device in ways other than originally the old-fashioned rotary dial he uses to program a robot. 

Tinkering around the garage is nothing new, but Fischer says the new generation of makers is combining high-tech electronics with social networking.

Fischer says the information age is transforming the landscape of making things through an iterative cycle of feedback.  "You come up with an idea, you share it, everybody knows about it," and that's how ideas improve, according to Fischer, a newly graduated computer programmer.  

Home made 3-D printers 
The next stop on our tour of maker culture in Northeast Ohio is the Shaker Heights home of Rick Pollack, founder of MakerGear.

Pollack demonstrates the 3-D printers he makes in his dining-room assembly plant.  A spool of plastic wire feeds into a moving print-head, which quickly melts it and ‘prints’ an object onto a small platform. 

Artists, engineers, educators, and entrepreneurs use 3-D printers to make everything from toys to prototypes.

Pollack even prints parts for his printers using the machines he makes.  He says anyone can now design and make nearly any plastic product, something that used to require large-scale injection mold technology.  

Removing the barrier to entry
Although 3-D printers have been around for a couple of decades, they’ve always been out of the average person’s price range.  Now, they cost less than thousand dollars

Pollack says it’s not about capital anymore, desktop manufacturing has removed the barrier for people wanting to take an idea from concept to store shelf. He says, "the cost to enter is very low, what’s really required now is know how.”

Affordable desktop technologies like laser cutters, mills, lathes, 3-D printers allow anyone with an idea to "fabricate just about anything.”

But more than anything, Pollack sees the maker movement as reconnecting with the urge to create -  “it’s just getting back to getting your hands dirty.”

Think[box] and the thrill of creation
Creativity is nothing new for Ian Charnas.  He’s operations manager at Case Western Reserve University’s new hackerspace called Think[box].

Charnas is an artist and engineer who's made everything from the world’s largest twin musical Tesla coils, to some computerized waterfalls with a swing-set attached to them...hickey machines, magical mustache mirror, remote controlled talking porta-potty, dancing chalk boards…you name it.

He says the digital age exploded when creative amateurs began playing around with modern computer hardware.  Apple, Charnas reminds us, came out of the homebrew computer club, "They’re in a garage and they’re tinkering and they’re building what turns out to be Apple Computer,” says Charnas.

At Think[Box] students can design and make things from scratch, including hand-made computer circuit boards AND the plastic case that holds them. 

Charnas says when people come in direct contact with making things, it’s like  the visceral thrill of an amusement park.  It’s that ability to take things that are in our lives and manipulate them and make them interactive, says Charnas.  "It’s the same thing as when you go to Cedar Point and you’re on a roller coaster,  it’s the same center of your brain that gets excited.”

Maker Faire and the maker movement
The first gathering of maker culture was seven years ago at San Francisco’s Maker Faire.  Regional Maker Faires are popping all over the country this summer. 

Meanwhile, Akron's hackerspace and Cleveland’s Makers Alliance bring together local hackers who want to explore in a social setting the new interface between high-tech and hands on.

I’m Jeff St.Clair with this week’s Exploradio

Related Links & Resources
3-D printer demonstration and review

Listener Comments:

FYI, its SYNHAK, not "Hackerspace Akron" :D

Posted by: Trever Fischer (Akron, Ohio) on June 4, 2012 9:06AM
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