COVID-19, Utilizing Your Makerspace

Makers and Factories Helping with PPE and Ventilator Shortages During COVID-19 Crisis

Some Makers Are 3D Printing Ventilator Parts

With scary statistics of climbing COVID-19 cases dominating the news, it’s important to balance this with hope. The COVID-19 global pandemic has left so much uncertainty in its wake, it’s hard to know what to do to help. Makerspaces are equipped with tools and machines that can be used to make life-saving gear, but will hospitals welcome it? If so, how can you be certain that you’re making personal protective equipment (PPE), or ventilator parts, correctly? 

Start by Checking Hospital Websites

Check your local hospital’s website to see what’s needed. Even if they aren’t accepting donations produced outside of a factory – yet – that doesn’t mean they won’t need to do so in the future. Here in Michigan, we are currently under a shelter-in-place executive order. However, leaving home in order to donate protective gear to health organizations, is allowed. 

As of today, the University of Michigan hospitals are not accepting hand-sewn masks or 3D printed parts for ventilators, but if you have hand sanitizer, wipes, or factory-made masks to donate, they are in dire need. The medical professionals that I’ve spoken to have also indicated that what will be accepted, and what is needed, is changing on an hourly basis. It’s a good idea to keep checking back. It also doesn’t hurt to start making hand-sewn masks and other equipment, just in case.

What to Make and How to Make it

Lately, there has been an influx of information about homemade COVID-19 supplies and remedies. Many of these sites contain false, and even dangerous information. Unfortunately, you can’t make hand sanitizer from Tito’s vodka. Additionally, extrapolated home remedies such as ingesting non-pharmaceutical chloroquine phosphate, can prove deadly. Before you start making, it’s really important to determine that you have accurate information, but how do you know where to look?

Two organizations at the forefront of makerspaces are Nation of Makers and Make Community.  Both have pages devoted to COVID-19. Nation of Makers has a listing of initiatives with how-to details, that other makerspaces are taking in response to COVID-19. The Make Community has a Plan C from Makerspace page with resources such as open source ventilator plans, and protective face shield designs.  

More Help Coming Soon

Although makerspace grassroots efforts are important, there is also more large-scale help coming soon. Although you can’t make hand sanitizer from Tito’s vodka at home, Tito’s and other distilleries have started to produce hand sanitizer, on site.  General Motors and Tesla are working to repurpose factories to produce needed ventilators.  Ford is helping with respirators, ventilators and face shields.  3M has also increased their production of N95 masks

What You Can Do

Making PPE and ventilator parts at home, is a great use of maker skills. Despite the help coming from industry, this maker-made equipment may still be needed. The best thing we can all do, is practice social distancing. Talented makers should also keep an eye on the local hospital websites to see what’s being currently accepted, and what’s needed most, by our heroic health care workers. 

Makerspace Roots

The Origin Story of Makerspace

Students working on computers in our makerspace–using Makey Makey– and creating perler bead pixel art

If you’re reading this, you probably already have some ideas about what a makerspace is. However, you may not know the origin story – how makerspace came about, and the ways in which the history of makerspace influences what we see today. To supplement my own five-year journey with makerspace, I did some research. This is what I discovered.

If you sensed a hint of the subversive in makerspace, you’d be right. Makerspaces harkens back to the late-1990s with hackerspaces. These were preceded by hacklabs, which first came on the scene in the mid-1990s. Both hacklabs and hackerspaces were a result of the proliferation of personal computers. Both also have computers and hacker culture at their respective centers. However, hacklabs are usually associated with some sort of political agenda, whereas hackerspaces are thought of as community organizations for learning and collaboration. What hackerspaces and makerspaces share in common is the focus on community and the use of technology.

So how did makerspaces branch off from hackerspaces? The answer, put simply, is Dale Dougherty. Dougherty is the founder of Maker Media, MAKE magazine and inventor of the term makerspace. Legend goes that Dougherty was originally going to call MAKE magazine HACK. When he proposed HACK as the name of his magazine to his daughter, she purportedly said that he should call it MAKE instead, because ‘everyone likes making things’.  The first issue of MAKE was published in January, 2005. Dougherty likened it to “Martha Stewart for geeks” and with this single publication, the maker movement was nudged into the mainstream.

The term makerspace didn’t come into play until several years after the launch of Make magazine, in 2011, when Dougherty registered, and started using makerspace to refer to spaces for designing and creating (often with kids). This was the point at which the maker movement started really taking off.

MAKE has always had its finger on the pulse of what’s trending in makerspaces and although some of the content is more applicable to professional making, it also contains some practical, kid-friendly projects, often complete with images, project completion time estimates and materials cost. MAKE also publishes a desktop fabrication guide with reviews of tools such as 3D printers, CNC and Lasers. This is akin to the Consumer Reports car buying guides, but for desktop fabrication. If you are considering making something, there has likely been an article written about it in MAKE.

Makerspace vs. Hackerspace

Makerspaces and hackerspaces currently exist all over the world. So, how do we differentiate between them? Honestly, it depends a lot upon who you ask. From my experiences, I tend to think of them in contrast to each other. Hackerspaces tend to be edgier, makerspaces a bit friendlier and more welcoming. Hackerspaces have a heavy tech focus, makerspaces tend to blend in more of the D.I.Y.

Makerspaces are usually more kid-friendly. Of the hackerspaces that I’ve encountered, I would not send a kid to any of them without a trusted adult (although I’m sure there are exceptions where that would be perfectly fine). This is partly because in hackerspaces, often the activities aren’t something a kid could do without help, either the materials or equipment are too dangerous (using lead solder, for example) or the skills are too advanced for kids, at least those younger than high-school aged.

If you’re wondering if there are any makerspaces or hackerspaces near you, there is a directory you can check. You can also register your makerspace or hackerspace in this same directory, once you have it up and running. You might be surprised by how many you find. Go check them out!