A lot can happen in a year. This time last year at TechCrunch Disrupt NYC, entrepreneurs were bemoaning the fact that innovations in hardware were not funded as well as software. Last week, TechCrunch Disrupt NYC hosted the first ever Hardware Alley spotlighting various hardware projects, including MakerBot’s 3D printers and the MinuteKey kiosk, “the world’s first self-service key machine” that lets users duplicate keys in various designs (featured in photos below). San Francisco recently held the Maker Faire and NYC will be hosting the World Science Festival from May 30-June 3. Not to mention the extraordinary success that hardware projects are having on crowd funding sites like Kickstarter and collaborative invention businesses like Quirky.
Then there is Ayah Bdeir’s littleBits, an open source library of modular electronics that snap together with magnets. Known as the LEGOs for the iPad generation, LittleBits is a great way to make learning fun for children and put the power of engineers in the hands of little makers. As Ayah says in a recent TED talk, littleBits was inspired by the concrete blocks of old, that were essentially modules made of cement, of a fixed dimension, that fit together. First used in 1868, concrete blocks quickly became the most used construction unit in the world. It is not inconceivable that open source maker units will be just as ubiquitous in the education sphere.
Startups like Prieto Battery are also slowly changing the landscape of clean energy. The founders recently raised $5.5 Million to help them develop lithium ion batteries that can charge in five minutes and last for five times longer than the standard. One can hope that like Prieto Battery, many of today’s tiny makers will go on to make significant advancements in macro sectors with far reaching impact like energy.
This celebration of crafts, engineering and science projects with an underlying Do-It-Yourself (DIY) or DIWO (Do It With Others) mindset contributes to a pervasive feeling that we’re going through a third industrial revolution of sorts. As Fareed Zakaria reminded us during his Commencement address at Harvard recently, we live at a time of astonishing progress. Even our cellphones have more computing power than the Apollo space capsule of yore!