Makespace: a unique resource in the Cambridge Community

What is Makespace

Makespace CambridgeLimited is a community workshop. It is volunteer run, open 24/7, a hackspace, a makerspace, a meeting place, and educational venue.Makespace was created by enthusiasts as an accessible workspace filled with tools to make and play in an environment that encourages learning. Since its launch in 2013 Makespace has attracted 1,000members drawn from all sectors of the Cambridge community to its4,000 sq.ft. workshops for metal, wood, textiles, printing, glass,electronics and digital tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC mills. Local business and artists use Makespace as a resource;creating fashion, testing software and prototyping new designs for applications as diverse as transportation, health, entertainment,gaming, science and technology for sustainability.

Why Makespace is Unique 

 Commercially focused and successful makerspaces are difficult. Makerspaces are often informal associations set up by for a particular project.Inherently physical, they require space, equipment and resources. Thus, most makerspace are short lived and close after the initial enthusiasm or project’s motivation has faded. Likewise hackevents (‘hackathons’) tend to be one-off weekend activities resulting in concept demonstrators without follow-on support or opportunities for institutional learning.

There have been several attempts at commercial makerspace models, but the models hav eeach met challenges. Established businesses that could benefit from ready access to flexible prototyping facilities only need them during certain parts of the product design cycle. SME and microenterprises that might benefit from a low cost DIY approach often lack broad in-house prototyping skills. Businesses have good understandings of end user requirements, but not necessarily the tools or skills to prototype without external support. From the makerspace perspective it is difficult to provide a wide selection of tools and trained operators at an affordable blanket subscription. Per use fee structures discourage experimentation as each iteration has an incremental cost. Service by trained operators drives up the cost and can get in the way of learning from doing that is often fundamental to gaining insight and capturing innovations.

Makespace Cambridge has avoided these problems in several ways, first it was founded by a broad collection of individuals and groups with industry experience. The initial focus of the groups was the space itself, not their individual projects. The result was club-like and had as its purpose infrastructure supporting innovation. They appreciated a social atmosphere and ready access to tools which supported new projects and explorations. The space, and the club, remained active after any particular project completed and in time attracted new makers and projects. The new makers saw that the engineering infrastructure, and workshops were ideal for prototyping early products. The existing members were sources of experience and insight.

The idea thatMakespace existed in its own right outside of any particular project requirement led to activities that were infrastructure focused;making the space became a project focus in of it self. The ever improving infrastructure and available tools were as attractive for early stage commercial users as they were for the advanced hobbyist so the membership was maintained, and indeed grew.

New members and new equipment mean not everyone is familiar with all the new tools. Members training other members is important for safety and more. Training is a common experience of all Makespace members. Even though they are at Makespace for different reasons they have a common experience in the training classes. The members doing the training also benefit from access to better equipment in exchange for teaching others how to use it.

The Makespace community is a deep and useful resource for companies interacting with and working out of Makespace. Not only do members of the community have experience in running a wide range of equipment theyare also members of the Cambridge engineering community with extensive experience in design, productisation and manufacture. They also appreciate the values of community, sustainability and continued learning. In this way Makespace also serves the function of a business incubator or accelerator.

Makespace is the largest makerspace organisation in the region offering 24/7 direct access to equipped workshops with trained and experienced members to offering assistance on a volunteer basis.

Life long learning; How do you do it?

The Internet – There is a wealth of online resources out there to help you learn. Listen to podcasts,download eBooks, take online course or join forums to discuss and get help from others.

Ask at work–Good employers will support you as you up-skill. Employees with professional training and certifications can enhance the company’s offer to its customers. Internal training, subsidising external training, time off to you can pursue your own learning are all ways your current employer can help.

Set a path – Set clear goals for your learning both in the long term and short. Join a course that will give you the basics of say Python, then a data science course with the longer term goal of using it as part of your work, say to analyse some data. A clear path with a particular application in mind will make your advancing skills more visible to both you and others. Take your learning seriously and keep it relevant, and you’re far more likely to stay on track.

Set expectations – It is you who will benefit from new knowledge and skills, but still it requires focus in the mists of all the other demand in your life. Set clear achievable objectives along the way, perhaps focus on learning something that you can use everyday. Don’t keep it a secret if you tell others,like your employer, what you are doing they can be more supportive. Set expectations and reward yourself.

Do it – In today’s connected world there are many opportunities for becoming aware of, and participating in, new activities. Online forums, you tube, eBooks, audio books, paper book, lectures and on-line courses are in abundance and very often free or very economical. Watch a youtube video at lunch, listen to an audio book on the way to work. Then when a subject resonates and you want to learn more, join a course, join a group, join a makerspace and try it out. Chances are there will be some, most, of the people there who are just like you, looking to learn more. You can learn from them and they will learn from you.

Life Long Learning

Lifelong learning is the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated” pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional.

Why is it important?

We are living longer. Most people will have many jobs in several sectors over a lifetime. The training and education you started with is unlikely to be sufficient over your career.

Modern workplaces are complex and dynamic. Formal qualifications are only one way employers identify desirable staff. Knowledge gained from experience, as well as skills, self-taught or learned along the way, greatly benefit businesses.

Being proactive about gaining new skills communicates to potential employers a desire to grow on a professional level. This desire is unlikely to abate once an employee is hired especially if further learning could bring further advancement. For the employer this means employees who are effective now will become more so as they continue lifelong learning.

In almost half of UK employers surveyed reported that they were having difficulties meeting customer service objectives and were losing business because staff did not have the skills they needed.(Foresight-future-of-skills-lifelong-learning)

There is an obvious advantage keeping your skills current and in step with what customers want. The problem is that same report said that “time lags between identification of market needs and gearing providers to adapt, exacerbated by rapid technological change” mean that the current educational system can’t keep up with the lifelong learning needs of workers.

 It is up to you to keep yourself skilled and up to date.

Next time I will write more about ways you might do this.

Creativity is not a passive activity.

It is a wonderful time to be involved in technology. I mean technology in a very broad sense, that is the way some objective is accomplished. It can be a tool or gadget an approach or methodology or even a way or organising a set of components.

The proliferation of cheap means of digitalising and distributing information means a wealth of ‘how others did it’ is available in seconds. Manufacturing and sophisticated logistics bring physical tools to try, test, sometime to destruction, is both quick and economical.

Barriers to a try it and see approach have fallen. Which means more people can try more, this in turn means that more unexpected things happen. Most of this will be classified, if thought about at all, as wasted effort. But an increase in over all activity will also increase the occurrences of  the good ideas.

Moreover, the easy of recording and sharing stories has resulted in an avalanche of websites where the novice and master can find inspiration, guidance and even collaborators.

There are very few excuses for not getting out and trying new things.

Makespace Cambridge

Makespace Cambridge Limited is a community workshop. It is volunteer run, a hackspace, a makerspace, a meeting place, and educational venue.

Makespace was created by groups of enthusiasts as an accessible workspace filled with tools to make and play in an environment that encourages learning. Since its launch in 2013 Makespace has attracted 1,000 members drawn from all sectors of the Cambridge community to its workshops for metal, wood, textiles, printing, glass, electronics and digital tools such as 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC mills. Local business and artists have begun using Makespace as a resource;creating costumes and fashion, testing software and prototyping new designs for applications as diverse as transportation, health,gaming, science or sustainable energy.

It is also a place to discover skills. Different disciplines making things within sight of each other means interaction is inevitable. Members teach each other about techniques and tools. Indeed, because Makespace is run by volunteers it is the members who train other members on the various tools that populate the workshops. Volunteer members organise and deliver training, talks, and public meetings each week. In the five years of Makespace there have been over 11,000 attendances at talks and training events.

Life long learning will be key for economic prosperity and competitiveness. Makespace is quickly becoming a place where regional business finds needed talent, explores new ideas and keep staff trained on new technologies.

How to create an ecosystem to grow open source hardware

A recent paper co-authored by Microsoft Research and the University of Wisconsin has given us food for thought, and fired us up to encourage more people to develop the open source hardware system.

Software has flourished due to open source innovations, but where is hardware? It’s behind, in 2013 software startups attracted fifteen times more investment than hardware startups. If you think about the big success stories of the last 15 years – they are mainly software-based. Facebook uses PHP, Twitter and Shopify are built on Ruby on the Rails and Uber uses Node.js. All open source software platforms.

Open source technologies allow startups to develop faster, shorten their time to market and reduce costs. Individuals have been able to experiment, learn and ultimately create successful businesses because costs are much lower in software. The advent of the inexpensive components, single board computers  and ready access to high-speed internet makes this easier and easier as each year goes by.

 Open source hardware (OSH) has a problem in that physicalequipment has longer lead times and design specification is less accessible and transferable. Where industry has been more forth coming in software, there are still deterrents in hardware as industry has been slower to respond to open source requests.

Industry virtually ignores OSH for use in commercial products, and contributes little front-end, back-end or EDA tools,due to lack of perceived value. The lack of industry recognition limits OSH participation for skill-development.

Open Source Hardware: Opportunities and Challenges, June 2016

The development community and hardware industry need to, as the paper states, ‘more vigorously’ collaborate in the open source ecosystem.

Encouraging participation from industry and academia

Interoperability is the first step to motivating contributes to OSH from both sides – making components work together easily will make the prospect of sharing more meaningful and simple.

 Agility is the key to the success of Open Source Software (OSS),so we must look to this success to build OSH. We have a growing maker movement globally, where people want to build what they use, and this must be encouraged. The GoPro is a mainstream success story in OSH,and if we can motivate more individuals to design chips then we’ll see many more projects like this.

Academia should structure courses to incorporate OSH, and this will attract those students interested in hardware projects as well as speeding up the non-industry side of the OSH ecosystem.

Without industry the OSH movement can’t reach critical mass,however. After some hesitation industry did contribute to OSS which we can see was obviously beneficial.

We argue that making commodity, commonly used IP freely available will ultimately benefit the hardware industry.Proven IP from vendors, possibly enhanced by the open source community, and eventually maintained collectively, can dramatically lower the bar for developers to start new designs

Open Source Hardware: Opportunities and Challenges, June 2016

If we can kick-start design this will generate more opportunities for industry in the future – much like the Linux ecosystem developed.

How to make hardware development practical

We should look at this section in terms of community and industry, each of which has their own important role.

Community: To make hardware prototyping more practical components must be accessible in an easier way. FPGAs should be more“ubiquitously available” through the cloud, mobile platforms or general purpose processors. In an academic setting they should be seen as research tools with a simplified set up and design process –users can easily base their designs to existing reference designs.

Industry: The electronic design automation (EDA) industry should make free versions of their designs available for non-commercial projects, to reduce costs for individuals and academia. This echoes the ‘freemium’ software model or preferential developer access to encourage innovation and experimentation, which will benefit industry eventually.

Five steps to developing the OSH ecosystem

The paper defines five steps required to develop the OSH ecosystem, briefly they are:

  1. Encourage individuals to contribute towards platforms and provide necessary design flows
  2. Make hardware design practical via easily available EDA tools and development platforms from industry
  3. More and more OSH components are developed, industry can leverage this critical mass
  4. OEMs introduce modular instrumentation that encourage customisation – for example open standards based designs
  5. Simplify agreements and licencing to grant the freedom to evolve to permit commercial and non-commercial use and contribution

This cycle will allow ideas to be generated and growth to be sustained in OSH, and gives academia/individuals and industry equal roles in it.

The paper gives us a lot of material to begin this journey, and now it falls to us in the industry to look around and see what we can contribute. For us, it is allowing devices to be interoperable so that these readily available components can be used together to encourage creativity.

Read the full paper or leave us a comment with your thoughts on this exciting time in industry and academia.

Managing the ‘things’ in the Internet of Things

What does a ‘thing’ need to work in IoT? An article we recently read has given us food for thought. TheHierachy of the IoT ‘thing’ needs published by Jim Hunter inTech crunch likens ‘things’ to people because they have needs that must be met to operate properly.

The best way to think about this is by looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. An IoT ‘thing’ is not a person, obviously,but adapting Maslow’s pyramid can help to realign our thinking on how IoT works.

This pyramid is like a to do list, each layer contains different asks that need to be organised in order for your ‘thing’ to work correctly.

The first layer is the very basic needs of a device – for humans its air, food and water – for a device to work properly basic needs like power and security need to be met. Without the first layer nothing above it will work and the higher you go up the pyramid the more sophisticated and useful the device becomes.

Understanding each level as part of a pyramid allows you to get the most from IoT and your smart device. This pyramid also allows you to create a robust system – allowing you to see the layers of needs and functionalities and therefore the different tools required.

Smartphones and the hierarchy of IoT needs

Smartphones demonstrate the way the pyramid works very effectively, so let’s explain the Hierachy of IoT in this way. A smartphone needs to be consistent internally first – the battery charged and internal electronics working correctly in order to run the software required. The software secures the device and can then connect to Wi-Fi or mobile data and store information which translates into apps, photos, music, emails that the user needs to access. This all sounds fairly straightforward, but there is a challenge, the challenge of flexibility. The layers above and below must be flexible to allow a user to, for example, use a phone in another country, charge it from a USB port or accept software updates.

Accepting flexibility is key to making a ‘thing’ work properly– layers aren’t silos and they must interact with each other in order for the ‘thing’ to work robustly and for information to be passed freely. If silos form then the system becomes brittle and vertically integrated. ‘Things’ must balance structure,flexibility and breadth – a big challenge.

Communicating between layers

As you can see the challenges of IoT are the huge variety in application and context, a ‘thing’ doesn’t just perform one task or have one set of needs. Each layer of functionality, as described in the article,invites many possibilities for interacting with the layers above and below. This means consistency is required to create an orderly system for managing data and communicating with the device.

The open source community are at the heart of making IoT viable,they develop new software and solutions each week to over come communications and compatibility challenges. This keeps IoT going to some extent but the amount of new data, new software and new approaches creates solutions that transfer in to more silos – not what we want!

How can we help the open source community? Accessibility is what they require – in programming languages (Python or C++ for example)which allows them to adopt, modify and create ways of working effectively.

This brings meaning to the ‘thing’, so the top level ‘ smart needs’ can be fulfilled, and then the device becomes truly useful and smart.

To give true meaning to the IoT the challenges of compatibility,communication and flexibility must be met. This pyramid offers a fantastic way of thinking that will help the open source community to keep on innovating