Meet the Makers of Singapore
Posted on June 25, 2013
Photo by Luther Goh
In May this year, local startup Pirate 3D launched their own Buccaneer 3D printer with an overwhelmingly successful Kickstarter campaign that made global headlines. The device seems not only easy to use but also beautiful to behold. The price: only US$347 plus shipping. They intended to raise just US$100,000, but as I write they have crossed US$1 million already.
It’s a good example of trendy tech enjoying crowdfunded glory. Some people are wondering if it’s a sign that local makers will soon experience boom times. But the truth is, such stories are rare in the Singapore maker scene.
Look around and you’re more likely to find modest maker meetups around town where friendly tinkerers exchange tips about down-to-earth projects, including everything from origami-inspired sculptures to mesmerising LED displays for the visual effects industry. Like the Singapore Makers Meetup, which happens every two months at HackerspaceSG. They are organised by local hack-ducator William Hooi, who works at the Science Centre Singapore conducting workshops for kids. In his free time he manages community projects like the Singapore Makers meetup group and the HacKIDemia Singapore chapter.
William is also part of the team behind the coming Singapore Mini Maker Faire in late July, a geeky gathering that Singapore’s makers, hackers and DIY enthusiasts are eagerly anticipating. It will be held at the *SCAPE Warehouse over the last weekend of the month, and provides a platform for some 60 or so local inventors to showcase their DIY projects and share their craft skills. If you turn up you’ll find that it’s a wildly diverse crowd. Still, William believes they share one important quality: the maker mindset.
MAKING IS LEARNING
What exactly is a maker?
WILLIAM HOOI: Makers are people who take DIY projects seriously simply because they enjoy the process of tinkering, experimenting, hacking and building. I believe that these people are extremely countercultural and rebellious, in a good way. Rather than conforming to mainstream culture and routines, makers take on the world by making something. It energises me to see that they can influence others to be more self reliant through a DIY approach to life, instead of passively consuming things.
Are you self-taught or professionally trained?
WH: Although I’m trained as a materials engineer and I taught science, design and technology, most of what I do today is picked up from tinkering, experimenting, and learning from peers and books. I learnt soldering from watching YouTube videos, Arduino and computer-aided design by auditing my students’ workshops, laser cutting and 3D printing from colleagues, and electronics by trying the projects in Forrest Mims‘ books. I can handle many of the tools and equipment in any standard workshop or fabrication lab, but not to the level where I can earn my living with it. And I’m more of a digital person rather than a hardware geek.
As a maker, what sort of projects excite you?
WH: I’m extremely disorganised so most of what I do is based on my current interests and whims. It’s a bad way to work so I try my best to finish the task as fast as I can, before I get distracted by another project. I get inspiration from watching my students work and I think they are my best source of ideas. Watching other makers do crazy stuff is inspiring as well.
William at an interaction design workshop in Lugano, Switzerland in 2011, getting tips from Massimo Banzi, co-founder of the Arduino open source hardware project.
MEET AND MAKE
How did you start getting involved with the local maker community?
WH: When MAKE magazine started their global makers meetups last year, I found out that the person who offered to host it in Singapore actually did so because he wanted to receive a free copy of the digital magazine. So I asked if he would mind me hosting the meetup, and that’s how we launched the first Singapore Makers Meetup in January this year at HackerspaceSG. I don’t do much to publicise the event, but people would just turn up because the meetup is the first thing that comes up in their search engine when they google “singapore makers”. This bi-monthly meetup has become a serendipitous project which attracts incredible people who make really amazing stuff.
How useful has social media been for building and growing this community?
WH: We would not have been able to get so many people excited about the makers movement if not for the Internet and the various social media platforms. Every little tweet, blog post or comment helps to share the kind of work that local makers are doing, and shows others how to be part of this. A good example is the Ground-up Initiative and the Sustainable Living Lab based at the Bottle Tree Park. Even though they are located in a remote part of Yishun, people flock to their activities because of their strong social network.
William speaking at the FORK 2 event, organised by Syinc.
MAKE IT BIG
What’s the future for makers in Singapore?
WH: Some of our makers are now getting good media coverage, and so this is no longer seen as an underground endeavour. Thanks to the ease of acquiring and learning new technologies, anyone can be involved with building really cool and inspiring projects. If you look at the background of the makers at our meetups, most of them have little formal background in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. Instead, they just go about making things and learn from their failures.
How do you think your work affects your community?
WH: I’m just trying to connect makers and put technology in the hands of kids. I hope this will help kickstart a movement where people can learn from one another in an environment that is welcoming and non-discriminatory or highbrowed. Way back in 1986, when I was in Secondary One, I had a teacher who taught a bunch of us some BASIC programming for free although we had no idea what to do with it. So this is my way of paying it forward. I also hope to start a financially viable public makerspace in Singapore, that would allow people to come in and make virtually anything.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to be a maker?
WH: Start doing simple weekend projects. Watch some really cool how-to videos on YouTube, or check out the resources at Instructables.com and DIY.org. Join the local meetups or maker workshops. The Sustainable Living Lab, for example, has regular workshops and anyone can join in. Also, visit the Singapore Mini Maker Faire!
The second Singapore Mini Maker Faire takes place 27-28 July at the *SCAPE warehouse. Find out more about William’s maker activities via the SG Makerspace Project, Cradle (Centre for Research and Applied Learning in Science) and his Facebook page.