Exiting a narrow, spiral staircase into Caleb Kraft’s basement, the first thing I notice is a pegboard lined with octopodes hanging above a cluttered workbench.
Plural of the sea creature is “octopodes or just octopuses, believe it or not,” Kraft tells me. ”I’ve actually got a whole pile of them somewhere else.”
The downstairs is equipped with multiple 3D printers. For one device in particular, its test item is what’s called a Rocktopus – an octopus holding up a rock-n-roll hand sign.
“Every new material I get I print an octopus so that I can compare the feel and the flexibility and the look of the materials for future reference.”
Kraft works out of his east Springfield home as senior editor for San Francisco-based Make Magazine, a bimonthly publication that focuses on do it yourself projects. In short, Kraft is a maker, with creations ranging from stuffed animals to giant sculptures that spew fire using an assortment of tools.
Kraft shows me a Brother Embroidery Machine, and some custom logo patches he’s created in reference to the Nintendo game Metroid. He plans to put on a t-shirt. He just started using this machine last winter.
With each creation, Kraft shares it on his blog. He tells me the goal is to inspire others to get involved in the Maker Movement.
“Making should be cool, right? It’s like a basic human need to make stuff… We’re just trying to make it cool to make stuff again, kind of to move a little bit away from a consumerist culture and get back into creating and making,” says Kraft.
And the projects can come in any size. Out back in his shop Kraft has large computer numerical controlled, or CNC machines, including a5 x 10 foot wood router and another device made for cutting metal.
He most recently used the router to make an art piece for his dad.
“12-foot wide piece of window art for his screened-in porch that had toads on it and a giant peace sign in the middle.”
Creations like these and the tools used to make them are what you’d witness at Maker Faires, which are popping up across the country. The event started in Springfield two years ago with the help of Deb Wilson. She’s the founder and chairperson for OSTEAM, which promotes science, technology, engineering, the arts and math throughout the Ozarks.
“I had been up to see the Maker Faire up in Kansas City and I thought ‘This would be the perfect avenue to bring innovation and showcase what is actually happening both as hobbyists, what are the high-tech businesses doing and what are school-aged children doing from preschool through post-graduate schools," Wilson recently told OPTV.
Individuals, businesses and schools occupy some 90 booths each year at the Springfield faire, which has attracted over 5,000 spectators since 2015. This year’s event is set for August 26.
Wilson’s organization was one of a handful on scene this past Friday for STEAM Days at Ozarks Technical Community College. There, some 40 local high school students learned the physics of flight, the chemistry of cooking, and were introduced to a medical simulation lab. In between breakout sessions, students tested out equipment brought in by a handful of local vendors. Sitting in a chair at OSTEAM’s booth is 16-year-old Kaley Belcher of Fordland.
Q: Do you mind if I ask what you’re making here?
Belcher: A Dog.
Q: And what are you using to make the dog?
Belcher: This little plastic 3-D printer pen.
The pen uses the same filament the printer does, and dries quickly. It operates similar to a hot glue gun, without the mess. Belcher first used these types of tools during a high school class last year.
“On a program we would build frames and we would put wires and stuff through it and he would show us how to make robots,” Belcher recalls.
And she’s looking forward to more hands-on work in college.
Across the room, Tyler Bateman is playing Lucky Tail using the Oculus Rift, one of the top virtual reality devices on the market today.
STEAM Days is aimed at providing students hands on, interactive, team-building experiences that may pique their interest in STEAM education. And as demand for careers in these fields grows, so do the course offerings and the needed real estate to get a practical feel for the technology.
At Missouri State University, officials hope to dedicate a section of Meyer Library to an interdisciplinary site. Janelle Johnson, the library’s distributed user support specialist, says it means access to technology, space for group study, and space for makers. It would serve as an opportunity for new ideas to emerge through intersecting disciplines.
“By looking at current issues and emerging technology and how those things fit into our lives and how they fit into the [university’s] Public Affairs Mission and how we can increase workplace readiness for our student body,” Johnson said.
She says some schools are ahead of the game in equipping its students with new technology in order to identify real life solutions.
“How do we give our students that same resource? Well if we share we can do more. And the library is a perfect spot for that. It’s what the library is based on.”
At Meyer Library, students currently have access to a 3-D printer, 3-D scanner, and virtual reality headset. Johnson plans to add more robotics to its toolkit, and mixed reality technology like the HoloLens. She wants to position the university and aspiring students to be able to stay ahead of the technology curve.
The project could cost up to $1 million, says Johnson. Right now, she’s working to identify funding sources to bring the project site to fruition by fall 2019.
“Put a maker space in the library for sure,” says Caleb Kraft.
Caleb Kraft, the Make Magazine editor who we introduced you to earlier – says maker spaces can act as central hubs to get local inventors more involved in the community. In fact, he says the lack of such a venue in Springfield prevents us from witnessing some the great work being done here.
“If you are a spectator in all of this the thing to take away would be [to] make some friends, get out there in the community and ask around because there’s insanely incredible things happening - there’s people are making robots in their garages!”
And if you’re a participant in the maker movement? Get out there and show off, says Kraft.
“People want to see what you’re doing. And even if you think it’s silly and not that important, it is. People will go nuts for what you’re making and be impressed that you’re making it.”
He adds that The Ozarks Mini Maker Faire this August is a great place to start.
Follow Scott Harvey on Twitter: @scottksmu