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Makers show off their craft at White House National Week of Making kickoff

The Obama administration has called on agencies, educational institutions and private companies to back the growing maker movement. But how do you help self-made tinkerers without stifling creativity?

Coby Unger, left, and Aidan Robinson present the "Swiss army knife" of prosthetic hands. (Screenshot via
At the White House’s National Week of Making Friday kickoff, inventors of all ages filed on stage to show off what they had made. We were there. It was awesome.

A little girl in a bowtie who created her own satellite, crowdfunded on Kickstarter.
A Native American team from Mississippi that created a solar-powered car that could go up to 70 miles an hour.
Nine-year-old Aidan Robinson, born without a left hand but with a precociously crafty brain.
“I went to a summer camp a year ago and they helped me design my own prosthetic arm,” he said with flushed cheeks. At the time, he didn’t get the chance to finish. So he teamed up with a young artist, Coby Unger, to create a spiffier version of the original.
Unger worked with him for a summer to design a device that could not only clip to a prosthetic hand, but also to a fork, spoon, or violin bow. “He wanted something that was adaptive,” said Unger. “More of a Swiss army knife of arms rather than a standard prosthetic device like a replacement hand.”
They are from different generations, live in different cities and work with different technologies, but they are all part of the same community: they are makers.
Through a series of initiatives from various government agencies, as well as educational institutions and private companies, the Obama administration is hoping to help the movement reach more communities throughout the country.
The National Week of Making, June 12-18, also includes a National Maker Faire held Friday and Saturday on the University of the District of Columbia campus.
“It’s really hard to play a sport like baseball by listening to a lecture,” said U.S. CTO Megan Smith. “It’s [also] really true of science and engineering and math.”
Yet the government’s efforts to back the spread of DIY tinkering with formal programs also raised a conundrum.
Panelist Chad Womack, the national director of STEM initiatives at the United Negro College Fund, warned that maker spaces should escape some of the pressure of results measurement that are widespread in public education.
“So that even parents who are elders in the community, who’ve never experienced these things can get involved,” he said. “The more we can encourage an open environment the greater the outcomes will be.”
“Some people love tech but don’t know how to turn it into their careers,” said Digital Harbor Foundation Executive Director Andrew Coy. In order to open up opportunities to low-income youth, the organization has turned a Baltimore recreation center into a technology space. The model could be replicated elsewhere, he said. “It’s something that cities all over the country could really do.”
The long list of initiatives presented by government agencies included:

  • The Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate will create a crowdsourced Maker Map, which will list all available maker spaces and resources across the U.S.
  • The National Endowment of the Arts committed to have at least 10 makers in its visual arts panels.
  • USAID will create an online marketplace for maker ideas to solve global issues, as part of its Makers for Development initiative.
  • NASA is looking for proposals for new ways to launch small satellites into space.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs will build a library of 3D printable prosthetic and assistive technology devices.
  • The National Science Foundation is soliciting grant proposals for incorporating making into STEM education. It will also organize a Maker Summit this fall in the D.C. area.
  • The Corporation for National and Community Service will support 1 million hours of pro bono STEM and technical education work from government employees.
  • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will host intellectual property workshops for entrepreneurs in D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia. U.S. PTO Director Michelle Lee noted that it offers many scaling fees and discounts to money pinched entrepreneurs. (Side note: There is now a Girl Scouts “intellectual property” patch.) “There’s no age requirement for making and creating and tinkering and getting a patent,” said Lee.
Companies: Digital Harbor Foundation / White House

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