India produces a lot of engineers but most of us don’t know how to work practically. Theoretically, we might be able to solve problems, but do we know how to apply those solutions?” says the voice-over in the introduction video to Maker’s Asylum. The space, set-up in the basement of a building in Bandra, has been created for the maker community, a subculture of people who have a DIY approach to innovation. In the 300 sq ft room that was opened a year ago, the colourful shelves and cupboards vie for attention with 3D printers, woodworking tools, and rows of mechanical equipment.
When Vaibhav Chhabra founded Maker’s Asylum in November 2014, he was working with EyeNetra Services, a company making portable eye diagnostic devices. A shared interest in DIY with colleague Kirti Shetty led the duo to establish a working space at the back of the their office, with basic woodworking and electronic tools. As the brainstorming sessions gathered momentum, they decided to acquire an individual space that would allow people to create whatever they wanted. “We wanted to start a community where people would come and build stuff in the evenings and on weekends,” says Chhabra. Today, Chhabra and Shetty have quit their jobs to focus on Maker’s Asylum, which is frequented by engineers, architects, designers and others curious to learn and create.
While the growth of maker culture in India was fostered on social media groups such as Maker Space Chennai, Internet of Things, among others – experimenting suffered due to a lack of dedicated physical spaces. That is now changing.
Bangalore-based Pavan Kumar began Workbench Projects with Anupama Prakash in June 2015.
Akin to Maker’s Asylum, the facility, set up in a 5,000 sq ft space, stocks DIY tools, prototyping machines and holds workshops, with a focus on responsible innovation. “It’s an incubation space for ideas,” says Kumar. Two weeks ago, Workbench had a workshop on how to build light fixtures from bamboo and their next one on building self-balancing robots. “It’s not just tech. We’ve had others on organic terrace gardening and basic maintenance of bicycles. In July, we went to the Fab10 conference in Barcelona with our Memory Book Project, that enables kids to record memories on the basis on sounds and visuals,” he adds.
There are other makers like Atul Yadav of Heramb Maker Lab who are taking the movement forward.
When not at Infosys, Yadav conducts sessions in schools (including municipal) and colleges about 3D printing and Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized computer that can be plugged into a TV or a keyboard.
“I was always keen to create with my hands, but there was little opportunity to do so in India. The 3D printing technology is the future as it hardly requires any technical expertise.” Yadav has now acquired a space in Pimpri, Pune where he will stock his printer and other equipment, inviting people to conceptualise their ideas. Kumar considers the maker culture a much-needed movement and believes it holds the potential to change the gear India is running on. “Doing something by hand always pushes people to think differently.”
The maker community is also now getting off social media pages and meeting each other. Earlier this year, India saw a gathering of 80 innovators from across India who showcased their inventions at the first Maker Fest at National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad. The two-day event introduced 8000 people who attended the fest to Google glass, indigenous arts and crafts, 3D printers, programmable mini-computers like Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, among other innovations.
An extension of the Maker Faire that is held across the world, the event is the brainchild of California-based venture capitalist Asha Jadeja. “I was inspired by the effect Maker Faire California had on my kids. I decided to fund an enterpreneur who wanted to take Maker Faire to Africa. There, I witnessed the transformative impact of giving a platform to local innovators – garage tinkerers who have other full-time jobs,” says Jadeja, whose festival will be host a second edition on January 10 – 11, 2015.
In a country known for jugaad, the challenges to the maker movement are many, foremost of which is funds, and the the dearth of practical learning in schools. For Chhabra, a shift in mindset holds the key to change. “In India, the focus has always been towards software. When people start considering hardware cool, creating will come easily.”