Maker tools are simplifying coding languages or creating ‘good enough’ shortcuts helping creators improve the features and functionality of their products to widen their appeal.
Some condiments really make everything taste better. Pink Himalayan salt. Chocolate sprinkles. Or, say, ketchup. And as we careen ever further into the era of the Internet of Everything, we could say interactivity is the new ketchup.
Appliances, apparel and just about every other kind of consumer product are adding features to incorporate user-generated data into their operations, making life among our constellation of belongings much more like the experience of being online.
Adding this kind of digital functionality to everyday objects might be thought of as the exclusive domain of developers and coders, but the maker movement is all about democratizing the means of production and as DIYers flood the market with new, innovative products, a corresponding flood of tools and resources now help the analog-inclined get into the digital game.
Ynvisible, a Portuguese company that builds interactive features into real-world objects and environments, knows all about this. Their recently launched line of modular, Arduino-compatible components, Printoo, gives everyone the ability to add internet connectivity and a host of other digital features to the smallest and most simple of objects.
iQ.Intel spoke recently with Ynvisible CEO, Ines Henriques, to explore this trend that we’ve dubbed Intuitive Programming.
“Ynvisible was created with a vision of embedding interactivity to every object,” says Henriques, with their core offering being a form of printed display that uses flexible, low-power electrochromic technology to incorporate user input into virtually anything.
In the company’s early days, their customers were big consumer goods companies. “Brand owners were really seeking ways to transfer the type of experiences that people were having online into the physical world,” said Henriques. Manufacturers feared their physical products were losing out to the online experiences and turned to Ynvisible to give their products and retail environments a more interactive quality.
This, says Henriques, is the changing face of consumption in the era of IoE. “In some cases, if you ask big brand A who their main competitor is, the answer is not going to be brand B. They would tell you that their competitor is the online world.”
The maker movement, however, uncovered a whole new market for Ynvisible. “We would be getting a lot of requests from different types of people from engineers, from entrepreneurs, a lot of designers wanting to have access to our displays, but there wasn’t an easy way to do that.”
Printed electronics, the industry where Ynvisible excels, is still relatively small and confined to a handful of companies. But the low-cost production process and light weight, flexible nature of printed electronics makes it the perfect fit to put logic, memory, printed batteries and printed displays into a variety of objects which conventional electronics does not allow.
“Ynvisible didn’t start out thinking about the freedom to program a certain object for your own purpose or for your own lifestyle needs,” says Henriques, but they quickly realized that this is what people want … and their printed displays were a perfect fit. “That’s how we came up with the idea of actually making available a kit that anyone can buy and try these different types of printed technologies.”
This new ability to build digitally-enabled projects without formal programming skills also opens the door to cheaper, faster development of more complex products.
“People can very quickly prototype an idea that they had in their minds but haven’t been able to put into practice and test them in a much more efficient way,” says Henriques. “It moves the innovation cycle a lot quicker than before.”
Tools like Printoo fit into the larger maker ecosystem that, according to Henriques, is rapidly evolving. She cites the growth of hackerspaces, maker faires and fab labs as a starting point. “And now some of these initiatives are almost becoming like training because these ideas are important at an educational level. That’s the basis of social change.”
With access to digital tools and functionality available to youth before coding is even an option, new doors are opening. “You have a great potential of changing people’s minds and really establishing a new way of looking into invention and creation and creativity.”
Ultimately, says Henriques, that’s what is most exciting about the maker movement and the way companies like Ynvisible are empowering everyone to bring interactivity to everyday objects. “It doesn’t seem to be isolated to a very small group of people that have skills or training. This is opening up to a new dimension in society.”
Editor’s note: The “Maker’s Manual” spotlights the do-it-yourself maker movement and how new computing technologies are helping democratize the creation of things once limited to craftsmen and professionals. This 10-week series from PSFK and iQ by Intel explores trends and features interviews with artists, inventors and entrepreneurs who are turning their ideas and dreams into reality.