Archive for December, 2012

The new DIY Revolution

There’s a certain amount of pride that comes from doing something yourself, whether it’s painting a fence, fixing the car, or creating a precision computer-driven laser cutter. You heard me – weekend projects have evolved from lopsided birdhouses to complex robotics, custom electronics, and tools that make the professionals jealous.

At the heart of this revolution is a funny little gadget called an Arduino. It’s a miniature computer, able to be programmed to do the tinkerer’s bidding. Simply plug in a USB cable & tell it what you want it to do. Blink some lights? Simple. Run a few motors? Easy. Automatically post to Twitter when your plant needs to be watered? Not a problem. Now your DIY Garage Warrior is armed with computerized control of whatever he or she wants. Build a proximity sensor that automatically opens the garage, or a robot that brings you beer from the fridge. But where are you going to get the custom-made pieces for your new army of robotic minions?

Once only available to the big boys, custom manufacturing has moved to homes. In CNC milling, a robot moves a router bit though a computer-programmed path, cutting the desired shape as it goes. For $400, a DIY enthusiast can build one of these gadgets, using a Dremel to carve the custom pieces they need. Or, replace the Dremel with a laser module & you can quickly carve through craft foam & other materials. Or, take the same robot & use a molten plastic extruder instead – now you have a 3d printer & can build custom plastic pieces without the noise & wasted material of milling. Now you’ve got the tools to build nearly anything! What’s next?

As it turns out, what’s next is really exciting. Make the technology better, faster, more precise, less expensive, and more available. Some day every home may have a 3d printer, able to print out anything you need at the push of a button. Just keep the raw materials on hand & push print when you want a birdhouse, toaster, or MP3 player. But then, without the workshop in the garage, won’t the DIY movement come to an end? I don’t think so – the focus will just shift from building something familiar to creating something new. The design will be the next frontier, and that’s where the tinkerers of this world will really shine.

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