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Tinkering Makes Comeback Amid Crisis

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MakerBot workshop

The American tradition of tinkering, combining hands-on skills with technology, is making a comeback. The workshop at Brooklyn-based MakerBot developed a rapid prototyping machine that can make its own parts.

Alex Welsh / The Wall Street Journal

The economic crisis and the reduced costs of high-tech tools and materials are fueling a resurgence in tinkering and experimentation. U.S. engineering schools are reporting a comeback in student interest in hands-on work, while workshops are springing up all over the United States in which people can exchange ideas as well as tools. "A lot of people are pretty disappointed with an image of a career in finance and they're looking for a career that's real," says Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Michael Cima.

Computer numerical-controlled tools, which carve metal and other materials into whatever design is fed into the computer attached to them, are becoming more affordable. Engineering school undergraduates are taking advantage of the increased affordability and accessibility of high-tech tools previously only available to senior researchers. The new tinkerers are creating a wide variety of inventions, from devices that Tweet how much beer is left in a keg to robots that assist doctors.

Decreases in U.S. spending on research and development has provoked concerns that innovation will no longer give the economy the jump it used to, but the tinkering craze may offer some hope as the inventions lead to new companies. NYC Resistor co-founder Bre Pettis says he is witnessing a "merging of [do it yourself] with technology. I'm calling it Industrial Revolution 2."

From The Wall Street Journal
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Abstracts Copyright © 2009 Information Inc., Bethesda, Maryland, USA


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