The cloud describes a family of tools in service of the maker movement, enabling increased collaboration, digital workflow, distributed manufacturing (i.e. the download of files that translate directly into objects via a digitized manufacturing process) and collaborative economy. This, combined with the open source movement, initially focused on software, has been expanding into open-source hardware, assisted by easy access to online plans (in the cloud) and licensing agreements.
Some example of cloud-based tools include online project repositories like Appropedia and thingiverse, version-controlled collaborative platforms like GitHub and wevolver, knowledge sharing platforms like instructables, wikipedia and other Wikis, including WikiHow and wikifab and platforms for distributed manufacturing like shapeways and 100k garages.
Programmable microcontrollers and single-board computers like the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone Black, and Intel’s Galileo and Edison, many of which are open source, are easy to program and connect to devices such as sensors, displays, and actuators. This lowers the barrier to entry for hardware development. Combined with the cloud, this technology enables the Internet of Things.
Desktop 3D printing is now possible in various plastics and metals. In combination with DIY open-source microelectronics, they can create autoreplicant 3d printers, such as RepRap. Digital fabrication also includes various subtractive fabrication tech, eg. Laser cutting, CNC milling, and Knitting machines.
To create one’s own designs for digital fabrication requires digital design tools, like solidworks, autodesk, and Rhinoceros 3D. More recently, less expensive or easier to use software has emerged. For example, fusion 360 is free for start ups and individuals, and onshape and tinkercad are browser-based digital design software.
Online project repositories make many parts available for digital fabrication—even for people who are unable to do their own design work. Opendesk is one example of a company which has made a business by designing and hosting projects for distributed digital fabrication.
Maker culture is not all about new, digital technologies. Traditional and analog tools remain crucial to the movement. Traditional tools are often more familiar and accessible, which is key to maker culture. In many places and projects where digital fabrication tools are just not suitable, hand tools are.
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