A surge of high-tech but affordable manufacturing tools and new sources of funding are helping launch a generation of entrepreneurs and laying the foundation for a hardware renaissance.
Inventors are working on projects ranging from drones, smart jewelry, and improved artificial limbs, to handheld devices for detecting gluten in food. Hardware is catching up to the open source revolution, with a growing wave of do-it-yourselfers that may hold the key to manufacturing innovation. For example, the advent of community workshops, often called hackerspaces, enable like-minded people to collaborate on a wide variety of projects.
"There is a large percentage of people out there who have ideas and want to make stuff, but they lack the training and access to equipment to do it," says Type A Machines founder Andrew Rutter.
Although funding for software startups still greatly outweighs that for hardware startups, investments in various categories of computer- and electronics-related startups grew 24 percent last year to $843 million, according to the National Venture Capital Association.
The Obama administration wants public schools to create more hackerspaces, and universities to let students submit maker projects as part of their applications. "The spirit and tools of the maker movement are something we want to engage with," says General Electric's Christine Furstoss.
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