From Makerspace to Marketplace: unlimited possibilities to change the world

3 min read

For decades, most new products have been developed by trained engineers and brought to market by well funded companies. But things are changing. Today, many breakthroughs are being developed by ‘Makers’ – anyone from inventors to children. One Maker with his own Kickstarter funded business is 13 year old Quin Etnyre, while ALS patient Patrick Joyce and his 2015 winning Hackaday team of Makers created an eye-controlled wheelchair system. Another, a vineyard owner, took on the California drought with a sensor-driven system that saved 430,000 gallons of water in its first year.

Makers have nearly unlimited possibilities to make the world a better place and, in the process, they’re contributing to the Internet of Things. According to a recent Gartner prediction, by 2017, 50% of IoT solutions will have originated in start ups that are less than three years old and will be products we can’t even conceive of today. This is the new Makerspace.

“Today, anyone can change the world,” says Sander Arts, pictured, vice president of marketing for Atmel. “That presents exciting opportunities: we can help our customers to make meaningful contributions using our technologies, then help them bridge the chasm from Makerspace to marketplace.”

The process of taking a technical proof of concept through funding and production, then to capture the attention of consumers and influencers has been difficult, even for well funded companies. But Arts says the worlds of engineering and marketing are drawing closer, with new technologies and global connections narrowing this chasm into a more manageable span.

In recent years, consumer demand has pushed companies to develop increasingly feature rich new products, to bring them to market more quickly and at lower cost. In response, silicon providers such as Atmel have invested in integrated hardware, reference applications, software libraries and production ready development tools to help engineers meet these demands. And the appearance of open source hardware prototyping platforms allows almost anyone to create a proof-of-concept of a new product quickly.

One example is the Atmel powered Arduino board, which has become a launchpad for many Maker projects. The 2015 Hackaday prize challenged Makers to build something that matters and all prize winning projects – as well as 80% of the finalist designs – were powered by Arduino boards.

As product developers evolve from traditional engineers to Makers, Arts notes a commoditisation of technology building blocks. In the past, engineers developed loyalties to particular controllers and their feature sets, while the industry sold devices based largely on ‘feeds and speeds’. But this approach to microcontroller positioning has limited appeal to Makers, whose focus is on how to bring their products to market quickly. Silicon vendors who support Makers need to differentiate themselves by providing such things as integrated hardware with extensive peripherals, software libraries and reference applications. They also need to provide development platforms that do more than help Makers to prototype. “Atmel not only recognised the need to make design easier, but also to ease the transition from prototype to production,” says Arts. “While the Arduino environment is intuitive and easy to use for prototyping, it has limitations that make it unsuitable for taking a project all the way to production.

“Atmel provides free software development tools that let Makers import an Arduino project directly into its Studio debugging environment. It also offers a suite of microcontrollers at varying cost and performance levels, as well as components for connectivity, security and touch interfaces, to turn prototypes into final products.”

But as Makerspace becomes more crowded, it is becoming more challenging for Makers to attract attention and to differentiate their products – and Arts believes this is impacting how semiconductor companies need to differentiate themselves.

Anticipating this need, Atmel has developed a broad support network, including significant investments in Maker Faires around the world and tech tours.

Chip manufacturers can help Makers connect with partners, influencers and buyers quickly and effectively. “The dynamics are changing so dramatically that companies like Atmel are taking a completely different approach to helping its customers succeed. In many ways, we’re becoming a media company that sells semiconductors.

Atmel’s activities are part of the noticeable shift not only from Makerspace to marketplace, but also amongst major brands, who are tapping back into the Makerspace community. Makers are making the corporate world sit up and take notice.

This is an exciting evolution and Atmel works hard to support it using its social networking influence, including the Atmel blog and its Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube pages. It also has more than 55,000 Twitter followers, a figure that is growing by 22% per quarter.

“If I can help customers sell their products by the power of my community, we all win,” Arts contends.

“The ultimate power is with the Makers,” Arts concludes. “We believe they are changing the world and this is what technology has always been about. While Makers see a way they can make the world a better place, we have the opportunity to provide technologies and a full range of support. We say we are ‘enabling unlimited possibilities’ and we truly believe in that.”

* To find out more about Atmel's support for Makers, visit Booth 4A-238 at this year's Embedded World, taking place in Nuremburg from 23 to 25 February 2016.