Many of today’s most extraordinary breakthroughs are being developed by makers – people from almost any background who use today’s collaborative tools and knowledge to create exciting new products. A few examples: 14-year-old Quin Etnyre is a maker who already has his own Kickstarter-funded business creating education kits. ALS patient Patrick Joyce and his 2015 winning Hackaday team are makers who created an eye-controlled wheelchair system that offers life-changing mobility and independence for those without the use of their hands.
A team of graduate student makers expanded the open-source concept to bionics, giving amputees access to affordable, customizable, 3D-printed prosthetic hands. Another maker is a vineyard owner who took on the California drought with a sensor-driven water conservation system that saved 430,000 gallons of water in its first year.
These offer snapshots of how the maker movement is impacting innovation and changing the world, but the big picture is even more compelling. According to a recent Gartner prediction, 50 percent of Internet of Things (IoT) solutions by 2017 will originate in startups that are less than three years old, creating products we can’t even conceive of today because they haven’t been invented yet.
While the maker movement isn’t all about technology, new development tools have literally turned technical product design into child’s play. Arduino, for example, has become a launch pad for hundreds of projects, many of which are trending on Kickstarter and Indiegogo. The 2015 Hackaday prize challenged makers to build something that matters in the world, and all of the prize-winning projects – and 80 percent of the finalist designs – were powered by Atmel microcontroller-based Arduino boards. But success requires more than quick proof-of-concept design capabilities.
Silicon vendors who support the maker movement are facing new challenges that are driving additional innovation. Makers typically don’t have established chip brand preferences, but look for full suites of microcontrollers at varying cost and performance levels, as well as integrated hardware that provides the extensive peripheral features their products need. On the software side, makers need development tools that let them import an Arduino project directly into a professional debugging environment, along with rich software libraries and reference applications that help makers maximize the full range of the chip’s capabilities. This kind of complete ecosystem is critical for silicon vendors to succeed, and it’s changing the way we innovate.
But there’s another critical role that silicon vendors can play, and in many ways it’s turning companies like Atmel into a media company that sells ICs. In 2012, we embraced this concept and began to create unique content dedicated to makers, startups, and customers in the market’s “long tail.” Over time, we’ve created a very large social media footprint. That audience is now helping startups using our technology receive the necessary funding, awareness, and platform they need for long-term success. We’re also bringing technical resources to Maker Fairs, schools, and communities across the country to showcase technology, teach, and encourage.
Makers have discovered that they can take an idea and innovate to create something that makes the world a better place – from low-cost, custom prosthetics to life-changing eye-controlled wheelchairs to drought-defying smart irrigation systems. Makers as a community value innovation and the open-source approach to development. With the proliferation and lowered costs of 3D printing along with powerful, easy-to-use prototyping tools, the maker space will continue to grow stronger and expand into the corporate world, bringing innovation beyond anything we’ve come to expect.
Sander Arts is Atmel’s VP of corporate marketing. He brings nearly 15 years of marketing and communications experience in the semiconductor industry. Previously, he was VP of marketing and communications at NXP Semiconductors. Arts developed, implemented, and drove the concept of global integrated marketing campaigns, including social media, which resulted in an increase in sales, gross margin, and mindshare. He holds a Master’s degree from Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen (The Netherlands) and a certificate in Strategic Marketing Management from the Executive Program at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Sanders lectures at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and is a member of the Advisory Board at Nijmegen University (advises the faculty of Arts) in The Netherlands.