What lies ahead: DIY and Make

Tim O'Reilly on how DIY reveals the next tech trends.

Tim O’Reilly recently offered his thoughts and predictions for a variety of topics we cover regularly on Radar. I’ll be posting highlights from our conversation throughout the week. — Mac

How is DIY connected to industry?

Tim O'ReillyTim O’Reilly: When you look at any enthusiast movement where people are playing with something just for fun, there are deep tech trends hidden inside that movement.

“DIY” itself is a general term for the early stage of a technology revolution. The Homebrew Computer Club was a DIY effort, and then it turned into an industry. The web was a DIY space, and then it turned into an industry. The same thing is happening with the Maker revolution.

We noticed six or seven years ago that groups were playing with hardware in many different ways, and there was new interest in robotics and programmable manufacturing. At one of our early peer-to-peer conferences, a conversation about swapping songs on Napster expanded into a discussion about how people would eventually trade object designs for 3D printers. The hackers were thinking about these things years ago, and now we are closer to that reality.

Another example: Jeff Han of Perceptive Pixel demoed a big-screen multitouch display at ETech in 2006. Multitouch on the iPhone arrived a year later. That technology moved from an engineering hacker community to a mainstream product.

We discussed sensors before, but they apply here as well. When O’Reilly published “Learning Open CV” a few years ago, I was struck by how algorithms discussed in that book are similar to those in our other title, “Programming Collective Intelligence.” I realized sensors and machine vision are both performing predictive analytics. That insight led me to write the Web Squared paper, which explored the potential impact of cheap and ubiquitous sensors.

Applications like RunKeeper, Foursquare [disclosure: OATV is an investor in both], Instant Heart Rate, CabSense, and Shazam all rely on sensors. When you connect the dots you see the DIY movement is telling us about sensors, and sensors are telling us about data. The people who understand the sensor-data relationship are the ones building innovative businesses that are ahead of the curve.

How do you see the Maker movement changing in the near term?

Tim O’Reilly: The next phase of the Maker movement is going to be marked by the emergence of new kinds of businesses. Adafruit Industries, DIY Drones, MakerBot, Instructables, iFixit, Etsy and other companies in this space have all tapped into new business models. Some sell kits, tools, and parts. Others provide a discovery and sales platform.

What’s interesting is that many of these types of companies don’t need a lot of venture capital — if any — to get started. In the years ahead, however, I imagine we’ll hear about this trend hitting the radar of VCs.

Next in this series: What lies ahead in Gov 2.0


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  • John Hartley

    Another aspect of this DIY culture is people using web apps to create and publish books. Companies like Blurb, Lulu and Apple are selling massive numbers of personal and small-run print-on-demand books. Its an interesting hybrid of online software creating specific physical objects.

  • solar32

    Nice article.

    what about Arduino?

    DIY Drones, MakerBot are based on Arduino technology and Adafruit Industries is a big reseller of it.

    Just because they are not american they still are very relevant


  • Tim, interesting article. I think you may be overlooking, however, the vast amount of work in these areas that has already been done (and is quite mature) in existing brick-and-mortar industries such as manufacturing, utilities, transportation, public safety/security, and defense.

    For not much more than the cost of “home brew” kits, one can buy ready-to-use programmable controllers, sensors, and other devices, all of which are a result of work done in these established industries 25-30 years ago.

    Also, software to capture, analyze, and exploit the sensor/data relationship has been around in some form for quite a well as well. There are certainly new dimensions and opportunities being created from ubiquitous sensing and ambient sensing, as well as radically new ways to store, analyze, and share this data, but it has been more of a continuum than a discontinuity.

    It’s nice to see you continuing to track, think about, and write on this topic.