Italians are looking forward to the release of the translated version of Makers by Chris Anderson on January 9, 2013. We here at MakeTank of course already had a copy of the book in English, and this is a good opportunity to provide a short book review.

The book starts with an autobiographical introduction in which we meet Chris Anderson in his grandpa's garage, turning pieces of metal into high precision components; then we move on to a panorama of the Maker and DIY movement in North Amerca. The rest of the book is based on the author's firsthand experiences in the use of these new technologies for design and manufacturing, as well as case studies like Tesla (the super electric car) or Local Motors where you can build your own personalized car (with a head mechanic to support you). Then there's the story of 3D Robotics, the remote-controlled drone company founded by Anderson and the then-19-year-old Mexican Jordi Munoz. The book is completed by a useful appendix of the main personal fabrication techniques. All in all a pleasant book both from a technical and from a narrative point of view.

Here are some points that I found most interesting as I read along, as well as the confirmation of a few things I already knew.

Manchester: from the first to the third industrial revolution

19th-century Manchester was the locus of the first industrial revolution, while now it is becoming the epicenter of what many are calling the third industrial revolution. Much of this appears to be happening around Fablab Manchester, where students and simply curious Maker-types hang out, although Anderson does note that so far it hasn't produced any startups. This does appear, though, to be a first step in a massive change in British manufacturing approaches.

Building business with Lego Mindstorm

3D Robotics is mainly based on Arduino, but I didn't know that their first remote-controlled flying machine was a mashup using a Lego Mindstorm controller and a few sensors and a model that showed up at Wired's editorial office (I guess it helps to be director of this magazine). If the company now has nearly 3 million dollars in sales each year, some credit goes to an item that many think is just a game.

Good, open pirates

When someone says "China," the first things that come to mine are low quality, the risk of being copied, and thus, how to protect one's intellectual property. Anderson proves us wrong with a story told in Chapter 9: Hazy, a PhD student at the University of Peking, becomes the point person for the ArduPilog Mega open source project and provides a big improvement to its software. Actually, he first cloned the project and put it up for sale on eBay, but Anderson's open approach transformed the potential pirate into contributor in a community of developers.

Kuka Arms

I had never heard of Kuka's robotic arms before, but if they can do even only half the things that the author says and permit one to build a Tesla, I want one (but only if it will also make me a coffee with my Bialetti).

Tijuana: high tech, low cost

To find this point you're going to have to geek out and read note number 35 (in the English version, we assume the notes will be transposed into Italian with the same numbers). Tijuana, in Mexico, has become an important entry point into the Californian tech business ("the California tech corridor"), providing highly educated young people who are ready to jump into the game - just like Jordi, now CEO of 3D Robotics.


We all know that MIT is ahead of the game (after all, if we use the term Fablab today, it's thanks to Neil Gershenfeld, Director of the Department of Atoms and Bits) but apparently they're playing with blocks of DNA to make "programmable material"... not sure what to think of that. All this fits into a subsection of the Makers movement, called DIYBio(logy), in which people are making low cost, open lab machines that can have an important impact on the improvement of the diagnostic sector in the developing world. Like the DremelFuge,a 10 dollar lab centrifuge which spins test tubes with a 3D printed head mounted on a (Dremel brand) electric drill.

And now for what I already knew

It's nice to read success stories in this book that share our idea of a business based on a community, on technology, and on alternative financing like Crowdfunding.

Stories like this provide models on which we can base ourselves - in fact, we at MakeTank think we're pretty much already in the right place. In these first months of our life, we've met many Italian makers, we've helped define a Fablab in Florence, and we're about to launch the final element of the project - a marketplace that will allow Makers to open up to the international market. Along the way, we're learning a lot, and we're ready to learn even more.

Oh yeah: and Chris Anderson is a really big geek. This book is confirmation.

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