The Straits Times article on 11 November 2013 mentioned that the DIY (a.k.a. Makers) movement is gaining momentum in Singapore.
A photo of Mr Rohaimi Mohamed was featured in the article. During the Singapore Mini Maker Faire 2013 (held in July) Mr Rohami’s Maker Booth was right opposite our Maker Booth. We were impressed with his idea of combining arts with robotics in his graffiti robot.
Also featured in the article was Mr William Hooi, someone who carries weight in the local Maker community. After the article was published, he was naturally approached with more related queries. In view of the interest shown in the local Maker Scene, he has the following to say.
Since the article on ‘makers’ was published yesterday, I’ve been receiving many queries about the the makers movement. I thought it might be valuable (and educational) to reproduce my response to the email interview by Straits Times, in James Chan’s words,for the “purpose of record and transparency” and with the “hope that it can maintain the quality of conversation that our nascent ecosystem needs.”
1) Who is considered a maker and what is the Maker Culture about?
Makers are simply people who take do-it-yourself (DIY) projects seriously because they enjoy the process of tinkering, experimenting, hacking and building. I believe that these people are extremely countercultural and rebellious, in a good way. Rather than conforming to mainstream culture and routines, makers take on the world by making something that are often inspiring. Maker can be an influence others to be more self reliant through adopting a DIY approach to life, instead of passively consuming things. Some do it as a leisure pursuit, others as a way to gain knowledge and some even sees it as a financial venture. Anyone can be a maker: students, academics, entrepreneurs, hobbyists or parents.
Makers are inherently hackers. Hackers are people who are discontent with the constraints of existing technologies e.g. electronic devices or software and finds a way to make it do something else. Unlike ‘crackers’, who breaks into computer systems, hackers are do not engage in any criminal activities but work together collaboratively to improve on existing technologies.
As such, the maker culture is more than merely asking the question ‘what can I make’ but ‘how can I make it do something else’.
2) When did the Maker Movement start in Singapore and how has it grown?
In my opinion, the Maker movement is a confluence of several emerging trends namely, the rise of hackerspaces (people coming together to share tools and spaces to work on technological projects), open-source technologies such as Arduino (a low-cost microcontroller designed for non-technical users in 2007) and Makerbot 3D-printer (Note: Makerbot was the first to introduce open-source 3D printing kit where people can assemble themselves in 2009. It also incorporate the Arduino microcontroller), the popularity of MAKE magazine and the Maker Faire (publishing venture by O’Reilly Media).
Similarly, that is how the maker movement got started in Singapore.We had all the right ‘ingredients’ already since 2009. People are already talking about making in various spaces such as the HackerspaceSG and the Sustainable Living Lab. What really helped to kickstart it was the first Singapore Mini Maker Faire organized by Science Centre Singapore last year and popularity of maker-related meetups, workshops and events.
A year ago, I had a hard time describing what is a maker but a year later, it becomes easier. We have definitely grown to the point that we are seeing more interests in setting up makerspaces in schools, universities or even in the libraries. I help to organize HacKIDemia workshops where we bring in maker activities (programming, electronics, 3D printing, DIYbio, tech crafts) for kids (5-15yrs old). More and more parents are embracing making as refreshing/complimentary activity for their kids as it allow them to experience/explore STEM education (science, technology, engineering & math) in a very personal way.
I hope that the general public will not misinterpret the maker movement as something that involves high-tech stuff such as 3D printing but also the revival of creative craftsmanship like letterpress printing, weaving, and integrating it with existing technologies.
3) What are some of the challenges makers face now and how can we overcome them?
Most makers will lament at the lack of space or resources that will allow them to work on their projects. Currently, there are very few public spaces that allow makers to use machines such as drill presses, lathes, sewing machine, laser cutters, 3D printers, PCB making/soldering stations. As space is scarce and rental is high, it is difficult for the ordinary citizens to pull their own resources to secure their own spaces and maintain it without too much financial burden.
Having said that, most of these equipment are quite common in schools or ‘fabrication labs’/fablab in polytechnics and universities. Unfortunately, access to these are restricted. One idea is to allow public access to use these facilities in exchange of a service such as conducting a workshop or running an event. Another idea is to provide grants or subsidy to defray the high costs of rentals.
More importantly, we will need to encourage mass participation in making to keep up with the infrastructure support. No point having big spaces and fancy equipment without a real community of maker to support it. As such, its a tricky problem that needs constant reconsideration and re-calibration.
4) What is the roadmap ahead for the maker movement in Singapore (expanding to schs, institutions, building more maker spaces etc?)
With the government taking notice and being more interested in this, we can expect many activities shifting to schools from primary to tertiary. At the public arena, we will expect to see more hacker/makerspaces being set up over the next few years. The shape that it is taking is still very US/American-centric and in time to come, we may be able to develop a more uniquely Singapore/Asian version of it.
Whether it will be mainly as a hobbyists’ domain or a possible shift to revive the manufacturing sector remains to be seen. At this point, the movement is still very grassroots/community-driven, organized around individuals and private institutions. It will definitely be exciting in the next few years ahead.