This is an edited version of an article I have written for the Year 11 magazine, ICON, at my school.
If you ever find yourself lost in the far dark corner of my school’s science block, one might stumble across the ‘Control Lab’, where you faintly remember the horrors of your Year 9 System and Control lessons, writing long, mundane and senseless code. A common sight in the control lab is that of panicked Year 11’s, scrambling to complete various aspects of their controlled assessment; the head of department and his highly sarcastic nature, bellowing at incompetent students (including myself); and those bored of everything else, browsing sites like Reddit or 9Gag, going there to escape the wrath of the IT department head in the Computer Gallery; however, occasionally, one can catch a glimpse of someone unsuspecting planning and building a weird and wonderful gadget or gizmo.
This sighting can usually be caught on a Tuesday lunch, where those who make these things gather together in a slightly chaotic manner in a school society called RoboSoc. Returning to the point of this article and its cryptic title, the point of this society, is all about building cool things. One group is building a quadracopter (those 4-propellored helicopters), another, a remote weather station, and myself, an internet-controlled rover; but beneath all of this, there is something much more profound going on, unrelated to technology, and it is causing a revolution of sorts. I just plan to use technology to convey my message, as it is probably the subject I am the most interested in (as shown by my Preview booklet) and contains possibly the easiest way to explain my argument.
The ‘revolution’ I talk about is not one of social uprising or political change, but rather one we are all involved in. I like to call it the ‘Maker’s Revolution’. Think of it what you want. You may be calling it #FirstWorldProblems, or be thinking to yourself, “what the hell is he on about?”, or you may even be considering clicking over to the next webpage, but I plan to enlighten you to how the ‘Maker’s Revolution” is slowly changing the world slowly, but surely.
Let us start with a simple example: the Control Lab. Take the quadracopter that is in the planning stages currently. What the student has been learning in his technology classes can be applied to this project, while also requiring some additional research, thereby broadening his understanding of the topic. Furthermore, unexpected problems or unplanned for things arise almost with certainty, requiring a deeper look into the larger picture. The long and short of it is that the student learns a great deal more than he would have just attending lessons.
You may be thinking, “This is just an extracurricular activity, no?” By the technical definition yes, but the important difference is that the student is actually doing something requiring research and the acquisition of new skills. This concept can be applied many other subjects, such as to music, where one has to learn new methods of composing or playing an instrument; or art, where you want to find a different way of developing a photo to achieve a desired effect. It’s all about making things outside of your normal school curriculum: a research paper, a piece of music, a chemical experiment, a photograph, a short film, a poem or even a quirky little gismo like the quadracopter.
Now, lets expand the picture a bit. Lets say that the student building the quadracopter decides to add networking capabilities to it. He learns about network interfaces and everything related and managed to make his quadracopter controllable over the Internet through a web browser. He then grows up, takes engineering at university and uses these skills to produce an affordable military-grade quadracopter that is then used in developing economies to ferry supplies or assist in remote surveillance of houses.
Granted, that last paragraph back there was a bit of a long shot, but I hope you can start to see from where I am coming from, but the truth is, stuff like this is really happening. In the UK, making things is more of a hobby than anything else: we are lucky enough not to worry about major problems such as lack of basic sanitation or access to power. However, in places such as Nigeria, only 10% of rural households and 40% of the country’s total population have access to reliable power. It should come to no surprise to you therefore that a group of schoolgirls, who attended Maker Faire Africa, built a urine-powered generator.
The generator is of course not perfect, but consider for one moment the radical impact a technology like this may have on a country like Nigeria. Should the device be made economically viable in terms of net energy output and cost to produce and sell, it would mean free and clean energy for individual households and cities if the operation were to be expanded into a power station, while the waste urea can still be used as an organic crop fertiliser. It is a win-win situation for everyone! Now think about how this technology could become a standard way of producing power in countries like the UK. Before you know it, the world is pee-powered!
Fine, maybe not, but even if the product fails to evolve, these girls have learned so many new skills and now have great opportunities at working on similar potentially world-changing projects. It is amazing to think that these students may one day solve the energy crisis.
Another example is that of a Kenyan university student who built an evaporative cooler to keep the rural farmers milk cold during storage, which would increase the amount they would be able to sell due to the fact that it is not expiring as quickly as it did. It also uses no electricity.
It is these types of innovations I mean when I refer to the Maker’s Revolution. The facilities and tools at our disposal our generation has allow us to do some pretty great things. One must not forget that it will be our generation that will have to solve some major global issues currently arising, and these tools, be it the ability to compose music, write a research paper or build a quadracopter, will allow us to change the world for the better.