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As household budgets tighten, the 'maker movement' could help you get almost anything you need.

Once upon a time, if you said you were doing a spot of DIY everyone would know you'd be doing something involving wobbly ladders, pots of paint and, depending on the decade, either stripping your floors or carpeting them.

No more. Or at least ladders and pots of paint might still be involved, but the end result could be an aerial drone you've built yourself. Or a biotech lab.

The Technology, Entertainment and Design (TEDGlobal) conference in Edinburgh, the festival known as "Davos for optimists", shone a light on the DIY revolution, a movement that encompasses items ranging from manufacturing to synthetic biology to medicine.


After a decade in which digital technologies have disrupted industries from music to the media, it's capitalism itself that is under attack. A decade ago, open-source software revolutionised the internet. Now the idea has entered the realm of physical things: open-source hardware.

Catarina Mota, a 38-year-old Portuguese PhD student, is typical of the new breed of DIYers, or, as they tend to call themselves, "makers". She is a member of a 40-strong "hackerspace" in New York, a co-operative workshop where members share tools such as laser cutters, and develops and makes "smart materials", ones that can change colour when you touch them or by reacting to voltage. In the three years since she began, the movement, fuelled in part by the rapidly falling cost of 3D printers - devices that create objects layer by layer out of liquid plastic - has become a phenomenon.

Mota's hackerspace, NYC Resistor, is one of the oldest, but there are now 1500 in the world.

Like most makers, she is self-taught. "A lot of people were doing these sorts of things as kids and then stopped," she says. "As manufactured goods became cheaper we became consumers. But now everything has changed. We don't accept things as they are given to us. We make technology work for us. And we can make a living from it. It's not just a hobby. It has the potential to change economics profoundly."

At localmotors.com you can download blueprints to make your own car; at diydrones.com there are designs for remote-controlled four-rotor helicopters; and at opensourceecology.com you can download plans for everything you need to build a civilisation, such as wind turbines, ovens, cement mixers, tractors and bioplastic extruders.

Marcin Jakubowski, the Polish-American TED fellow behind the ecology project, is a passionate advocate of the movement. "People are hungry for meaning. It's about enterprise and low-cost access to blueprints. .. Production will be in the hands of the people."

If this sounds like Marxism, a world in which workers own the means of production, it is and it isn't. One of the speakers at TEDGlobal, author Rachel Botsman from Sydney, who has coined the term "collaborative consumerism", says: "It's definitely capitalism. But it's more democratic forms of capitalism."

She points out that the website Airbnb, which allows anyone to run a bed and breakfast operation in their spare room, received a US$1 billion valuation last year "and only 30 companies in the world have ever done that".


It's also a phenomenon perfectly suited to the austerity age. Mass unemployment, says Andrew Hessel, a biology futurist from California, might even be the necessary catalyst. "Before, people would just go and get a job in retail. Now that's gone. There are millions of jobs that are not just coming back. But you can set up your own business for $100."

And the ideas, as evidenced by their high visibility at TED, are just starting to go mainstream. Bruno Giussani, the European director of TED who organised the programme, believes we are on the cusp of something radically new, not least because, according to Massimo Banzi, one of the founding fathers of the field, "you don't have to ask for permission".

Banzi is co-creator of the Arduino, a cheap, flexible single-board computer that's at the heart of thousands of DIY products, from a plant that will tweet you when it wants watering to the ArduSat, an Arduino-powered satellite.

"I made this little book to explain what I was doing and for the cover I took this image from a 1970s punk fanzine which said: 'Here's three chords, now form a band'," says Banzi. "The DIY movement is tech punk. You can do what you want.

"Big companies limit your freedom. Look at the iPad. This is the TV set of the computer age. They're designed for you to consume media. We have to teach children to make their own." So, are the big corporations scared? "Not yet. It's still pretty scruffy and disorganised. But then, look at Apple. They were just a couple of hippies once."