A few days ago Remy, Nate, Krstine and I sat down for some good unstructured brainstorming to try to identify areas of research.
We covered a lot of ground, with topics ranging form the philosophy of appropriate technology to the specific "raison d'être" of the maker movement.
Also this week I helped Kristine order circuit components for a project that she's working on. Even with fairly modular parts (NEMA motors, Arduino shields and so on) there's still a massive gap between "knowing what to do" and "knowing how to do it" - even when prototyping, you're forced to worry about and understand implementation details rather than your ultimate objective.
There's a similar concept in computer science - a fouth generation language refers to a language that lets a user specify what they want a system to do, without telling it how to do it.
Last week we mentioned "What is the KidPix of CAD?". I took a look around this week to try to see what the state of the art was on that front. While there are a variety of simple 3D modeling programs out there (Sketchup, 123D, etc) one that I found particularly impressive was an experimental release by Autodesk called MeshMixer.
MeshMixer is a free tool for making crazy-ass 3D stuff without too much hassle. Or boring stuff too. You decide.
It's shockingly intuitive, and takes very little time to sculpt organic shapes. It's obviously built for 3D printing, containing tools to help balance and support models. However, it's useless for anything precise, or with moving parts. Even carving out a slot for a motor, or LED would be nigh-impossible.
I've been in touch with Doug Commons and Greg Reynolds, who are running a program aiming to get 3D printing and related maker tech into Ottawa highschools. They've run one session so far, which saw attendance of upwards of 40 students (pretty good for a voluntary program at a highschool!). I hope to talk to them to get an idea of what interests students about the Maker movement, and what tools and skills the students lack in order to best achieve that. I'm really excited for what they have to say, and should be meeting with them in the next short while!