The rapid rate of technology change has affected our society in numerous ways - some positive, some negative. For engineers, the large variety of fields and depth of knowledge required in each has resulted in knowing more and more about less and less. That makes it harder for engineers to make optimal design decisions independent of knowledge, technology and tools. Moreover, it makes their knowledge brittle, and worse, makes them bad at solving real-world problems.
Moreover, a recent emphasis on software over hardware (at least in the US) has relegated the implementation secondary to the idea: "I cam up with the idea...let other people make it work". In some ways we've become a marketing-driven society outsourcing the engineering and manufacturing with the assumption that the implementation is a commodity best handled by the cheapest provider. But whatever the perceived challenges and costs in developing the skills, tools and knowledge to implement and manufacture products, these are an indivisible step in a successful product design process. There is no way to outsource innovation.
Ironically we live in the "golden age" of knowledge. The Internet has made it possible to learn almost any possible topic to the highest level. For "soft" engineering fields (e.g. programming), the only barrier to achieving your dreams is persistence. Makerspaces open up the same opportunity for the "hard" engineering fields. Fundamentally Makerspaces are a place to focus on solving the problem first, and then enabling the solution second with whatever tools & knowledge is necessary.
An effective Makerspace should include all of the following:
- Instill Curiosity
- Strong training on both basic equipment as well as fabrication techniques.
- Basic business & entrepreneurial training.
- Provide a large stock of parts for quickly assembly of prototypes.
- A complete set of high quality tools for rapidly prototyping a wide range of systems.
- Encourage an effective community of skilled collaborators to help inventors develop their ideas.
Here are some facilities that demonstrate some of these concepts, both academic and commercial:
Glassell School of Art: http://www.mfah.org/visit/glassell-school/
Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen: http://oedk.rice.edu/
Local Motors Co-Create Space: https://localmotors.com/
Makerhaus Makerspace: http://www.makerhaus.com/
TxRx Makerspace: http://www.txrxlabs.org/
NYC CNC Machining: http://www.nyccnc.com/
The significance of Makerspaces to our society go beyond giving people a simple hobby shop. Makerspaces democratize the process of innovation, enabling anyone to achieve their vision regardless of background.