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Making an Impact

GIG at MakerFaire Berlin

by Geraldine de Bastion and the GIG Community

Whilst I was preparing my talk for MakerFaire Berlin, I came across a post on one of my favourite procrastination sites – Bored Panda.  The headline made me believe a glorious invention was now available, which would transform my telephone into an even more powerful tool. A click on the post revealed that the “Genius Phone Accessor” was in fact a selfie stick that will “Make your Dog Pose for the Perfect Selfie”. 

Genius as this may be for desperate dog owners, it is yet another product in the long line of “things the world does not really need”. Many such products have been created, often made possible by very successful crowdfunding campaigns, such as the Ramen-Bowl iPhone holder, and recently the Pancake Robot, that have raised discussions in the Maker Community. 

Anna Waldman-Brown has compiled articiles that address some of these points of critique in a blog post under the title: “Are we apolitical bourgeoise hobbyists promoting a materialistic patriarchy? Anna has collected resources for MakerSpaces, how to’s, background articles and other useful resources, as well as some of the central articles published in the last year that critically reflect the direction the MakerMovement is heading down. 

In her articles “Why I Am Not a Maker” Debbie Chachra criticizes the product-focus of the community where ““Artifacts are important, and people are not” and fears that “When tech culture only celebrates creation, it risks ignoring those who teach, criticize, and take care of others.” 

The must-read piece by Alison Arieff  “Yes We Can. But Should We?” reminds of the unintended consequences of the maker movement:  “A 3D printer consumes about 50 to 100 times more electrical energy than injection molding to make an item of the same weight.[…] And the material of choice for all this new stuff we’re clamoring to make is overwhelmingly plastic.”

In his commentary piece, “We now have the means of production, but where is my revolution?”, Peter Troxler draws a sober assessment of the current direction the movement is heading down: “Of the four possible interpretations of Fab Lab and maker culture – bourgeois pass-time, innovation in education on technology, new renaissance reconciling liberal arts with science and engineering in a contemporary and playful way, and new industrial revolution – the practice appears to swither between the former two, while the latter two rhetorically complement the former.”

Of course, I too would like a pancake robot (hello??). Many meaningful inventions have come from playful tinkering and creating art, educational or just fun things is very much part of the tinkering and explorative culture we are trying to spread to other more settled areas of thinking and production. However, new abilities also come with new responsibilities. With all these powers to create, time to stop and reflect is necessary – as Bilal Ghabib puts it, the question we should be asking ourselves is:  “If we have the power to make anything – what do we make?”

Instead of contributing to the creation of more plastic waste, more luxury gadgets, more, more, more… Many believe the power of making can be harnessed to solve problems, rather than contribute to them. Solving local problems with a maker approach was at the heart of the projects presented by GIG at Berlin’s first MakerFaire. Four projects presented their work at the GIG booth and during a talk held on the second day on the main stage.

Cladlight is a wearable tech startup operating in Kenya and we are reducing motorbike accidents using The Smart Jacket. This is a safety vest/Jacket that is fitted with bright lights that clearly show the intents to turn left, right or break. Kenya loses between 3000-13000 people every year from motorbike accidents. My partner and I felt we could do something to help and wearing the The Smart Jackets increases visibility by 70% thereby reducing accidents.

Digitally Speaking: Fashion Designer Nidhi Mittak and hacker Avik Dhupar have created garments addressing issues of security for women in India. Equipped with cameras, SOS button and GPS signals, their work addresses the fusion of technology and fashion and current social challenges.  Their garments are not just a fashion statement but with the integration of technology are used as a mode of communication and virtual connectivity with optimum usage.

AB3D (African Born 3D Printing):  AB3D (African Born 3D Printing) is a social enterprise involved with the production of Retred 3D Printers and 3D Printing filament all from recycled waste materials. Through this, we create affordable and sustainable access to 3D printing by lowering the entry level barrier and supporting the ecosystem using local resources and infrastructure. They are also focusing on the production of 3D Printing filament, primarily from recycled PET plastic waste bottles. AB3D was founded by Roy Ombatti (Founder and CEO) and S. Karl Heinz Tondo ( Co-founder and business developer). AB3D was founded strongly on the “Theory of change” were the inputs (process, equipment, training, support and connection) with a resulting state (build localized printers and creating localized products) generates outcomes and impact (new jobs, rapid prototyping). 

WoeLab :  WoeLab is the first hackerpace in West Africa. Projects that have been initiated at the space include W.Afate 3D printer  - "W" from WoeLab, and "Afate" the name one of the co-creators. The W.Afate 3D printer is built using parts from recycled electronic waste, like old computers, printers and scanners. W.Afate is a "collective intelligence" project and that the whole community is inventor.  The printer is just one of the examples of eWaste recycling start-ups supported by WoeLab – the foudner Sénamé Koffi Agbodjinou will be presenting the work of the start-ups currently being incubated at WoeLab, in particular the robot currently being developed to support small farmers. 

These four projects are examples of mindful making, where a local issue has been identified and is being solved with local means. All projects presented are open and collaborative in their approach and working on creating a business with open technologies and sustainable solutions. The creators are inventing products, but not for the products sake. GIG was surprised to see, apart from the many beautiful projects for children and parents, there were few projects at MakerFaire with a social focus.

And we found ourselves wondering if this was typicall for other Faires as it was the first one for most if the group. The fact that Berlin MakerFaire was a family event, and the halls were filled with laughing children was encouraging. A number of exiting discussions took place at the GIG booth – we debated the opportunities and limits of open and collaborative production and how to make a business out of open hardware production, we also talked about issues connected to data security in wearable technology, and we discussed the new generation of children who are being encouraged to play with technology again. After raising a generation of iPad users, scared to look inside the powerful and pricey gadgets dominating their lives, at MakerFaire it felt like we were educating a new generation of kids able to solder before they can form full sentences, girls and boys interested in circuits and motors and ready to get their hands dirty. Let’s make sure this generation of kids understands the impact that they can have if they use their new skills to solve the worlds problems!

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