When looking at the origins of American innovations that have developed a part of our culture and a large part of our economy, time and time again we find a garage with someone tinkering inside. With this in mind, Bob Swartz of Impossible Objects asked me, “What’s one new invention that a large corporation has presented in the last 20 years?” I wasn’t able to answer off the top of my head. So, if our innovative culture is still being forged inside the garage, could service agreements, warranties, and complex electronics end the innovative culture that has led the United States to so much success?
There always seems to be a call for more hands-on experience, or someone who isn’t afraid to mechanically explore (tear apart) and observe the world around them. However, I feel it is not just an American culture, but an animal instinct to push limits and build; to be fearless of failure, and curious of the world around us. The world is constantly changing and so must tools and inventors. Today, open-source electronic boards and 3D printers are inspiring a new generation of inventors.
Inventors are being rebranded as “makers.” The “garage” is turning into collective spaces, such as tech shops, hacker spaces, and maker spaces. Programs such as Baja and Formula 1 SAE, FIRST Robotics Competition, Idea Labs, and Hack-a-Thons are inspiring young engineers. There are crowdsourcing sites that compile ideas and problem-solving in new ways. While this new breed of maker might not be taking apart cars or phones, they are exploring, observing, and tinkering.
An open-source mentality is changing the scene, too. Having an Arduino or other open-source tool with an online library can help a beginner or professional start building an idea. Some companies resist, holding tightly to their intellectual property, while others have decided to loosen their grip. There is a hybrid strategy that helps makers tinker and expand the technology while providing the companies that own it protection and control.
With unknown budgets and return on investments, tinkering might be too uncertain for corporations. But discouraging these new inventors with close source technology won’t lead to the death of the American garage, but rather, the downfall of corporations. Big Business is starting to see this, too, as companies sponsor competitions and events for them. The American garage and our innovative culture are not dead. It has diversified into smaller segments. Ranging from anyone who has a drawer full of old electronics and a soldering gun, to collaborative massive warehouses filled with people from all over the globe that meet and tinker, the American garage is the melting pot of culture and sciences. If people want to support jobs and innovation, they need to support the thought creators, and those who tinker. Our future is in the hand of the wrench holder.