Our gadgets seem to get more refined and complex as technology advances, and yet every day, it gets just a little bit easier to bring the DIY ethic to electronics thanks to some phenomenal resources. While there are many tools, locations, people, online resources and tutorials to help you, we've chosen ten of our favorites. Check out these great devices, websites, events and locations that will help you dive in to hack, modify, repair and rebuild your devices.
We've been in love with B-Squares since they came on the scene with an incredibly successful Kickstarter campaign to get their concept for DIY modular gadgets off the ground. They're square blocks that each have a different function -- one may be a solar panel, another a battery, another an LED light and another an Arduino. They stick together with magnets and you can build different objects with different functions based on which squares you stick together. For instance, you might want to make a simple LED light glow, so you use an LED square and a battery square. And you might want to quickly charge that battery square so you add on a solar square.
The creators behind B-Squares envision the future of electronics being endlessly customizable with modular components. "Recipes" for different functions are put together by users and shared in an open-source fashion. The inspiration for new ideas is endless, and they will eventually be able to be used for practically any function you can dream up, from solar powered flashlights to sending a text-alert when the laundry is done.
We are keeping a keen eye on B-Squares to see how they influence DIY electronics in the coming years.
A resource that has grown by leaps and bounds since starting up in 2003, iFixit is now dominating technology outlet headlines every time they publish a tear-down of new Apple products. The iFixit team is usually the first to take apart new devices piece by piece to see how they were made, and their strong stance for repairability in electronics is what's behind the detailed, pro-level tutorials for fixing busted devices.
The resource has become invaluable to people who want to fix their own electronics and just need some guidance on how. But what's more, iFixit has created a community of gadget DIYers, those who recognize the importance of being able to open up and mess around with one's own electronics, and these DIYers are helping to grow the long list of tutorials for fixing a continually expanding list of devices.
The team puts the environment and the logic of the Self-Repair Manifesto first. And for that, we thank them!
We get so much inspiration from Instructables for DIY projects that it's hard to overstate just how amazing we think this website is for makers, crafters, and hackers.
What we like best about Instructables, besides the constant flow of ideas and projects from creative people, is that the format of the site allows projects to be somewhat collaborative. When we see a project for a particular gadget like, say, an electronic bee counter, or an automated greenhouse, or a solar charger in an Altoids tin, it's not just the instructions for the project that are helpful to readers but also the many comments that provide feedback and help perfect the project. Each project's instructions is a work in progress, and this boosts cooperation among makers and keep creativity flowing.
This is an excellent resource for anyone who likes building electronics from scratch, hacking old devices, creating interesting new uses for technology, and getting inspired with project ideas.
TechShop is where your ideas become reality, even if you lack the tools at home or skill base to build your ideas. It is a place the ensures everyone has a shot at making something themselves. We don't have to be satisfied with only what manufacturers make for us. And we don't have to limit ourselves by what we can make at home with limited resources. TechShop makes it possible for anyone to make pretty much anything. And we mean anything. As the website states:
"TechShop is perfect for inventors, makers, hackers, tinkerers, artists, roboteers, families, entrepreneurs, youth groups, FIRST robotic teams, arts and crafts enthusiasts, and anyone else who wants to be able to make things that they dream up but don't have the tools, space or skills."
Now that is a DIY geek's heaven.
5. Fab Labs
Fab Labs is similar to TechShop only it's even more high-tech. Like a TechShop location, a Fab Lab is a place people can go to fabricate, well, pretty much anything -- except the equipment goes beyond soldering irons and drill presses -- Fab Lab equipment includes lasercutters, numericallly-controlled milling machines, programming tools, milling machines to make circuit boards and more. Each Fab Lab hosts about $50,000 worth of equipment and materials for people to use to build their ideas, and they are located all over the world.
"Fab labs have spread from inner-city Boston to rural India, from South Africa to the North of Norway. Activities in fab labs range from technological empowerment to peer-to-peer project-based technical training to local problem-solving to small-scale high-tech business incubation to grass-roots research. Projects being developed and produced in fab labs include solar and wind-powered turbines, thin-client computers and wireless data networks, analytical instrumentation for agriculture and healthcare, custom housing, and rapid-prototyping of rapid-prototyping machines."
A Fab Lab is basically the geekier version of a TechShop, and both are paradise for DIYers with ideas for new gadgets and technologies. Both put the power in the hands of the average person to build whatever they can dream up.
Say you love the idea of TechShop and Fab Labs but there aren't any near you and you're interested in seeing your ideas come to life. Well then for you, there is Ponoko. Ponoko has been around since 2007 and has brilliantly used technology and the web to put design and creation in the hands of every person.
The idea is to find a design you like, tweak it to your own specifications, order it and have Ponoko make and send it to you. "Just as the Internet revolutionized the exchange of digital photos, music and movies, Ponoko pioneered the creation and exchange of downloadable products," states the site. You can make something yourself, ask someone else to make it for you, sell your own designs, and of course buy designs you love.
Are you a developer? You can also design your own product creation app. Some of the apps already created and used on Ponoko include Formulator, which turns designs into laser-cut products, Local Motors which creates custom car parts designed by you, and Made Solid which builds research-grade, physical models from scientific data.
We absolutely love the fact that Ponoko has made designing and producing something so easy for anyone with a computer, and we especially love that anyone can come up with their own app for making things!
7. 3D Systems PrintersThe Cubify printer stole the show at CES this past January and it's no wonder why. 3D printers have gained popularity but they've remained in the realm of the serious designer (who has money to spend) or gadget geek (who can build one from a kit). The Cubify printer by 3D Systems made 3D printing more approachable and more affordable. Though 3D Systems has several models of amazing printers, their ultimate goal is to "democratize design" by getting 3D printers in the hands of kids and hobbyists. They're well on their way to accomplishing that goal.
3D printers are a way to create prototypes of designs or customized toys or parts for projects. Ultimately, they allow anyone to test out their ideas in "real life" and could be the solution for less waste as people can print out exactly what they want or need rather than relying on stores of not-exactly-right parts and products from manufacturers.
We love the sustainable mentality of 3D Systems, their goals of democratizing design and of minimizing waste, the recycling programs being launched for the plastics used in printing, and of course the sleek, easy-to-use printers. For DIYers, this technology will soon be an important tool.
There are a couple resources we love for inspiring gadget ideas and one is Lifehacker. We love the articles that pour out of this site that empower people to hack their electronics (and their lives...). With categories like DIY, How To, Laptops, and Downloads, you know you're in the right place for a tech-savvy DIYer looking to keep up with the latest creative ideas, tips and conversation. Of course there are other categories that help readers with everything from time management and productivity to navigating new mobile phone apps. It's an all-around great resource for someone who wants to be more self-sufficient with their tech, and we highly recommend adding it to your RSS feed.
9. Make Magazine
The second resource we love for smart, interesting ideas and inspiration for DIY tech projects is Make Magazine. Well, not just the magazine, but also the blog, the podcasts and videos, the community forum where makers can chat about ideas and troubleshoot projects, and of course the Maker Shed store where so many fantastic parts and projects can be found and brought home. For makers and gadgeteers, there are few resources as, well, just plain awesome as Make. If you're interested in tinkering with gadgets, you need to dive in to the resources found here. It might as well be a requirement!
10. Maker Faire
What can we say? TreeHugger hearts Maker Faire!!
Maker Faire. Sigh. To put it simply, for the DIYer, attending Maker Faire is like coming home. These gatherings are held all over the world. Two of the main events (the "flagship faires") are held in New York and San Mateo in California's Bay Area, but there are mini Maker Faires held all over the place. It is a time for makers to get together and show off what they've been working on, to gather inspiration from one another, and to admire some of the crazy crafts people have put together.
We've seen solar-powered bikes, fire-breathing dragons, amazing electric cars, robots of all descriptions, and so much more when we've attended Maker Faires. Making electronics do cool, practical, and useful things is a significant part of Maker Faire and maker culture.
Of all the resources and tools mentioned here, perhaps Maker Faire is one of the most important because it brings together people in celebration of what they've built. And taking time to celebrate what you've accomplished is easily as important to DIY technology as taking time to make something in the first place.