World at your feet with cheap new tech

The makers of Dust Radio, a documentary about the late blues-rock artist Chris Whitley, turned to Kickstarter for funding.
The makers of Dust Radio, a documentary about the late blues-rock artist Chris Whitley, turned to Kickstarter for funding.

Why don't you ...

Build your own mobile phone network
Or maybe not. Though it's possible: a drug cartel in Mexico has built its own encrypted network that operates across the country. As Marc Goodman of the Future Crimes Institute thinktank points out, technology is all very well, but it's not always in the hands of the good guys. He worries that it's not just schoolchildren and Brooklyn hipsters who are going to want to get their hands on DIY biotech. Criminals are always ahead of the curve, he says: drug dealers had cellphones long before Michael Douglas got his hands on one in Wall Street. "Weaponised flu" and 3D-printed guns are what happens when DIY goes bad.

Become a venture capitalist (or borrow money from one)
Anyone can set up a business or have a creative idea. But raising the money to finance it is another thing. Existing forms of finance simply aren't working, which is where new grassroots forms of lending come in.

Online collaboration has become a growing source of entrepreneurial capital. The United States website kickstarter.com is the most famous "crowdfunding" site, with more than US$230 million pledged to different projects by private individuals. There's also petridish.org for science projects, fundageek.com for technical ones and the British spacehive.com for social projects.

According to author Rachel Botsman from Sydney, it's one of the main planks of the new DIY economy. "Kickstarter is lending more money than the US National Endowment for the Arts. It's the greatest source of creative funding in the States."

On February 9, the site saw the first project to raise US$1 million - for an iPhone dock. Three months later, the Pebble, an internet-connected "smart watch" with an e-paper screen like a Kindle's, broke the US$10 million mark. You don't need your bank manager's permission any more; just the kindness (or savvy financial acumen) of strangers.

Study cryptography at Stanford
Failed your high school exams? Dropped out of college? Fear not: Daphne Koller and her colleague at Stanford University in California, Andrew Ng, want to teach the world for free. When Ng videoed his course on machine learning and put it online, more than 100,000 people signed up. That led him and Koller to develop an entire online learning platform with lectures, coursework, exams and certification. Choose between analytic combinatorics at Princeton, neuro-ethics at Penn State or cryptography at Stanford. It's already being called an education revolution.

Make your own satellite
Remember the days when Nasa made rockets and the European Space Agency sent satellites into orbit? So old-fashioned! The latest innovation, powered by the Arduino microcontroller, a palm-sized open-source computer co-created by Italian technologist Massimo Banzi, is the ArduSat, a DIY satellite that is the idea of a physicist and two aerospace engineers. No time to make your own? For US$350 you can buy space on the ArduSat to conduct your own space science.

ArduSat is the latest in a long line of inventions powered by the Arduino, which Banzi and five friends developed while teaching at design school at Ivrea in Piedmont. You can download designs from the net or buy the board readymade. It has been used in countless ways, including in a glove that interprets sign language into words, a Geiger counter used to share radioactivity data after the Japanese tsunami, and the ArduPlane, an unmanned drone. And then there's the "Enough Already" controller, created by Brooklyn DIYer Matt Richardson to mute his TV whenever the words "Kim Kardashian" are uttered.

Do your own DNA testing
Genspace in Brooklyn, New York, was the world's first community biotechnology laboratory, or "streetlab", but Britain now has its own (MadLab in Manchester) and DIY molecular biology is a trend that is growing fast.

Ellen Jorgensen, Genspace's co-founder, says the possibilities are endless. "It's impossible for me, as a mainstream scientist, to imagine what an artist, an architect or even a lawyer may come up with when they get their hands on this technology." More practically, one of Genspace's early users DNA-sequenced dog excrement on a local pavement and tracked down the offending dog.

Print your own 50-cent microscope
The problem with doing a lot of science at home is that the equipment, supercomputers, rocket launchers etc, can be pricey. Which is why Manu Prakash and his team at Stanford developed a new type of microscope: it can be printed out on paper and folded into shape and costs only 50c. It will be unofficially unveiled in a few weeks' time, but Prakash, who grew up in India without a fridge, understands the power of microbes and wants children everywhere to be able to do the same.

-Observer

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