In the second week of the Artists Designer: Maker course we were given the opportunity to visit the increasingly popular Maker Faire at its Rome venue. I was very excited by this opportunity as I though it would give me a insight, early on in my degree, into what the possible opportunities there are for makers in this day and age. The first part of the Faire was a very professional conference with world renown speakers who are at the cutting edge of the maker movement. The conference kicked off with a astronaut from NASA who would be making a trip to the international space station in a few months. She told us of the major differences between the film Gravity and what is was actually like to be in space work on the space station. She told how the space station is used as a platform to perform many scientific experiments in microgravity. It’s amazing to think that technology has come so far as to now enable us to have human out in space 24 hours a day 365 day a year.
The next speaker spoke on a topic which I think is very important. He addressed the power of the Internet and how our lives are becoming ever more reliant on the Internet and computers, with the possibility of parts of our life actually being controlled by computers and the Internet. He talked about the interests of companies to limit liberties on the Internet, being done that for the ruling technocapitalism system it is not convenient that people can freely share their knowledges and discoveries –even they are already achieving to turn illegal the act of publishing certain informations. So he gave the example of a connected house hold, whereby when you walk into the house the house knows what you are doing so it performs task such as boiling the kettle, doing the washing etc in relationship to your internet activity but imagine if we didn’t know how to change this our life would be basically controlled by the company who sold us this product, so he promoted the use of open source product and services and to think about how much a company will have power over you before you buy a product from them.
Following this speaker, we moved onto the much hyped 3D printing technology, which is developing at a rate of knots. 3D printing was common occurrence throughout the Maker Faire. This speaker was speaking on 3D printing food. 3D printing essentially uses and XY and Z axis similar to CNC, and it has a nozzle which regulates the flow of material to build a object up in layers. This speaker was talking about how he had taken the 3D printing technology and adapted it to create a printer which printed food, by combining certain powedered ingredients for a particular food, and the squirting it though the nozzle, to print the food. Although this is indeed impressive and was a crowd pleaser, I couldn’t really see it actually taking off in the everyday home. Firstly, the cost of a 3D printing wont be worth the slight time saved in printing your food rather than manually cooking it. Secondly, there is something of tradition in cooking food, with many people taking pride in their culinary skills, with many social gathering being as much about cooking a meal together as it is about eating it. However, I can see this technology might be useful as a replacement for the current freeze-dried packaged space food that astronauts have to put up with. Instead of eating tasteless, disgusting space food they could 3D print hot, and reasonably fresh food as if it was bought from the shop. Of course it will be some time until this technology is developed enough to enable this but the potential is there.
The next speaker interested me greatly due the the architectural theme. His organisation were exploring the potential of 3D printing houses, which excited me greatly. They have made their project into a public exhibition where you can view the live research going on alongside the 3D printing of the components of the house which is a canal house. I can see a potential future where people are able to customise the houses they live in, bringing architecture to the masses and providing us with beautiful and refreshing variations in the houses we see across the world. The house would be 3D printed in sections and then assembled, all could be done onsite cutting down the cost of transportation. There are many thing that are still being developed such as materials and how the houses would comply with housing regulations, with specific regard to insulation and fire retardant properties alongside the actual structural integrity of the building, but the potential is exciting.
The next couple of speakers had a heavy medical theme, with the first using 3D printing to replicate defect organs to help a surgeon to fully understand what the problem with the patient is. This technique would be used when there is a complex defect in a organ such as the heart, which is very tricky to understand what is going wrong and how to operate on it to repair that defect. The patient would undergo MRI scans which would allow a 3D model to be created on the computer which could be then printed giving a model of the patients defect organ allowing the surgeon to have something physical to examine rather than having to look at it on a screen. He can also then accurately plan how he will operate on that organ. I think this is a brilliant application of 3D printing and demonstrated the incredible adaptability of the technology and how it can be used for almost anything! Another speaker had taken this idea a step further. His organisation had developed a 3D printed implant to fit inside a child’s airway, for children who are born with collapsed trachea. The surgeon takes a CAT scan of the affected area and using the 3D model of both the airway and the implant he can perform virtual surgery before doing it in real life, to make the tricky operation smoother and easier to perform.
Following the 3D printed organ speaker, was a speaker representing an organisation which had 3D printed a bionic ear. The scientists used 3D printing of cells and nanoparticles — with an off-the-shelf printer purchased off the Internet — followed by cell culture to combine a small coil antenna with cartilage, creating a bionic ear. The functional ear can hear frequencies far beyond normal human capabilities. This sort of thing really scares me. I understand that if a patient has lost their hearing then a replacement ear would be very welcome! But I feel these sort of scientist can get completely lost in technology and loose sight of the human being! I don’t like it when technology is used to unnecessarily mess with the human body to enhance it and make it less human like. I only think this is going to bring problem with it as the human body is something of a perfect state of equilibrium and messing around with that in a unnatural way is bound to breed consequences. Reading up on the project I found this project is the team’s first effort to create a fully functional organ: one that not only replicates a human ability, but extends it using embedded electronics, and this really troubled me. So whilst the technology is truly amazing, its power is frightening and should be treated with care.
The next speaker that really interested me spoke about sustainability of our population as the number of people on our planet ever increase. He focused in particular on clean water and organic plastics. He had developed a sponge which rejects water but soaks up inks. Whilst it isn’t very useful to simply separate ink from water the technology has potential to soak up contaminants from water enabling easy cleansing of water, which could potentially be extremely useful, especially in third world countries where clean water is such a issue. The second item his organisation was developing were plastics made out of organic ingredients such as barley and parsley. Not only will this make it more environmentally friendly to produce plastic and make plastic a sustainable resource, but would also make it biodegradable.
The following speaker had an amazing invention to share. She had made a foldable microscope aimed at third world to aid them in diagnosing diseases. She said that from her experience one of the biggest issues with malaria is being able to catch it early on in its incubation stages. This would be easy if microscopes of enough power were easily accessible to the everyday public to look through and diagnose positive or negative. Malaria is easy to recognise through a microscope so wouldn’t need any expertise, just a bit of knowledge to know what to look for. If every family had one of these microscopes they could check members of the family regularly and catch malaria early on when its easy to treat. The beauty of the foldable microscope is how cheap it is to make and how easy it can be assembled. The can be made for as little as 50 cent and has a power equivalent to that of a 3000 pound microscope. The kit microscope comes as a paper template with the lens integrated and all it needs is a bit of folding and the microscope is ready to go. I think this is a amazing piece of technology and demonstrates the cutting edge nature that I experienced at the maker faire.
I want to end this blog post with the talk from the CEO and founder of the Maker Faire. I thought he summed up what the Maker Faire was all about; a place to collaborate, share and find other people passionate about making. He also runs maker media which has a philosophy of “make and tell.” Its a space for makers to share the ideas and products or other makers to contribute and help develop the idea. I really experienced this community of makers at the Makers Faire, nobody’s there to hide any secrets about how they made their projects, they are mainly there to share, as well as try and promote their ideas of course. So, I came away with a warm community feeling, and hope for the future of making. I also felt a certain privilege to have experienced the cutting edge of technology and all those amazing speakers. I felt slightly scared by the power of upcoming technologies and the potential to get completely lost in it all rather than seeing it as a tool for humans use when absolutely necessary and not to just use technology for the sake of it. I worry that technology has the potential to make us to lazy as humans and we wont bother doing anything anymore because we have robots to do it for us thus destroying what making is for me; a physical exploration of materials and a labour of love to creat something beautiful with a certain purpose.