In his career as a toy designer, inventor, educator, and research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, Kipp Bradford has watched the evolution of the Maker Movement and in his ESC Boston keynote Wednesday, he shared his vision for its future.
According to Bradford, the next best thing to predicting the future is to understand what the future that we want will be, and then trying to create technologies to make that future possible. But it will take more than pushing the limits of science and technology.
“A lot of my work is trying to be predictive about the future—trying to design the future,” said Bradford. “Engineering has to work hand in hand with designers, artists, and society.”
The way forward is to take a lesson from the movement and design like a maker. Bradford’s idea of designing like a maker means validating quickly, building modularly, standardizing, and sharing solutions.
The Maker Movement has connected people to technology and translated technologies into products in a whole new way. With crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, and events like Maker Faire, people can present things they’ve made, and get a response that could indicate if there’s a market for it as a product.
Rather than going through a long research process to decide what to build, people build the thing they like and put it out in the world, and that can lead to some impressive things. Bradford pointed to his MIT Media Lab colleague Hugh Herr, a double amputee, as an example.
“All the things that he’s made Hugh basically says, ‘Yeah, I’m an engineer, but the only thing I care about is walking again, so I’m going to make the things that allow me to walk,’” said Bradford.
A product that has flourished in the maker community is the Arduino platform. Its user-focused design has allowed it to continue to evolve 10 years after its introduction. The drone industry and the 3D printer industry were also built on top of open source platforms.
“Arduino paid deep respect to the humanity of creating technology,” said Bradford. “The thing that was really great about it wasn’t that there was any new technology in it, it was that somebody thought really long and hard about what it means to actually use the technology that we create.”
The success of maker products has highlighted the idea that when technology is made easy, more can be done with it. Reducing friction allows for faster design, which benefits everyone. That’s where engineers come in.
“It’s not makers who are making the technology easy, it’s the people in this room who are doing that,” Bradford told to ESC Boston crowd. “Frictionless frameworks give us super powers as engineers and designers.”