How to Create an “Aquaponics” Ecosystem for Makers and Promoters

Maker | Interview
Conversation with Ted Hung & Huang Chenqian

In recent years, the Maker movement has swept into Taiwan with Millennials at the forefront of this revolution. The government has also poured resources to support the initiative by building Maker bases and promoting Maker programs in primary and secondary schools. This article explores how Makers and promoters work together to create a dynamic Maker ecosystem.

Apart from its greenery, the Flora Expo Park in Yuanshan is also the new home of Taiwan’s renowned Makerspace, Fablab Taipei. Meet Ted Hung and Huang Chenqian as they talk about their observations of Taiwan’s Maker ecosystem.

Ted Hung is a pioneer in Taiwan’s Maker movement and started Fablab Taipei in 2013. He dedicated himself to provide essential resources like equipment, community connections, and networking opportunities for Makers because he believes collective intelligence can speed up actualizing an idea. The Fab Foundation certified Fablab Taipei as a Supernode, one out of four in Asia. As part of the international Maker community, Taiwanese Makers can share their projects with the world.

Huang Chenqian founded Xinzhan Internet of Things in 2015. To solve donation funds transparency issues NGOs, NPOs, and political groups face, he developed a smart fundraising box. After making a cash donation, the donor gets a receipt with a QR code that traces the money. Then the machine uploads all the transactions to the server, making the entire donation process more transparent. Xinzhan Internet of Things became a resident of Fablab Taipei in 2017.

On becoming a Maker: wanting to do something that makes me happy

Hung:After studying and working in the States for ten years, I came back. I wished to start a business but did not know what I wanted to start. Then I remembered I had fun assisting students in the woodwork classroom at Southern California Institute of Architecture and felt accomplished when students completed their projects. So, I decided that I wanted to do something similar.

Back then, Makerspaces were an emerging trend. There weren’t many similar organizations in Taiwan, so I wanted to introduce it to the society. Between Makerspace brands TechShop and Fablab, I chose Fablab because it focuses on international cooperation and exchange, so much that they call it a multinational social movement alliance.

There are about 1,300 Fablabs in 70 countries around the world. Apart from holding an annual conference, this global community regularly converse and exchange ideas about their latest projects through video conference.

Fablab emphasizes collective wisdom. It relies on sharing knowledge and experience to speed up the progress of science and technology. So, Makers are the ones bringing together the world’s creativity.

Through promoting digital fabrication, Fablabs hope to encourage local sourcing and manufacturing worldwide, revolutionizing how we make things. For example, to make a ballpoint pen, traditional factories would need to make a mold, then mass-produce it to offset the cost. With digital fabrication, I can make a customized writing instrument molded for my hand at a fraction of the cost.

The advantage of customization is that suppliers make products on demand. Whereas in traditional factories, they first determine how much to produce by guessing how the market would react. If the product becomes unsaleable, not only would it lose profit, it also creates more pollution.

Huang:When I first started as an entrepreneur, I never heard of the term Maker. I just wanted to do something I have a passion for. In 2014, I was part of Ko Wenje’s campaign office. Part of my duty was to process the donations people come in to give. The hassle of running upstairs then down for each receipt and the difficulty of tracking the money pushed me to think of a better way to do it.

So, I built a smart donation box to change cash donation into an interactive activity. Donors use an extra second to think about what the organization is advocating, how they will use the money, and get their receipt right afterward.

Fablab Taipei Provides Makers with Cross-Disciplinary Resources

Huang:Hardware-wise, Fablab Taipei has many machines, including a laser cutter among others. It’s tough to look for a place with well-organized tools and machines one needs that also has enough space for them to spread out. The studio where I used to work was tiny. Here, I could weld on one table while doing something else on another table without having to clear out more space.

People-wise, Fablab Taipei has access to resources and contacts. Sometimes, Ted Huang even makes client referrals.

Hung:(Besides making referrals) It is also possible to foster cross-sector integration because in the early days the Fablab Taipei community had many designers and 3D printing professionals.

However, I’m not able to help every Maker that comes my way. Some ask me to introduce a gig. But if I am not sure of their capabilities, I couldn’t do a specific referral. Sometimes they have conflicting schedules or different pricing expectations. Successful examples are often more coincidental than not. Just as Huang Chenqian needs space, and I happened to have some allowed us to continue our partnership.

Makers and promoters should complement each other like fish and water.

Huang:Partnerships are dynamic, and it often involves meeting the right person at the right time. The best way to cooperate is for all parties to do their part. If(Makerspace operators)successfully create and manage a base, those who find it a good fit would stay and those who don’t would leave.

Hung:If you want to do something, do it, and do it well. When both sides put out their best efforts, it forms the basis of an equal partnership like fish and water.

The Maker community is a living entity with members coming and going all the time. Those who identify with the culture and enjoy the resources will stay. Take immigrants, for example, if people cannot survive in their native country, they will emigrate to another country, because life always finds a way.

On Maker spirit:an attitude of challenging the status quo and continual innovation

Hung:Makers have always been a niche market and a long shot from becoming mainstream. They are a group of people unsatisfied with the status quo and look to bring about change with their efforts. If you were satisfied with your life, you won’t have any incentive to improve.

The Maker spirit will become common again. Before developing farming machinery, everyone was a farmer. As tools advanced, machines replaced many manual labor jobs. During this transitional process, humans must have the Maker spirit to survive. Now, artificial intelligence is improving every day. All administrative jobs, like office clerks or bank tellers, would probably disappear. What should these employees do to cope? That’s the question we must figure out.

Huang:I think the maker movement never died because in factories, everyone is a Maker, so are people in the RD department of a technology company. What we should focus on is popularizing the Maker spirit. For example, if you need a piece of clothing, would you buy one in the store or make it yourself?When you feel like making it yourself, now that’s Maker spirit.

Makers Will Continue to Push the World to Change

Huang:Xinzhan IoT will continue to develop innovative products this year (2018). We are planning an online donation app that automates donation using the Line chat-bot that could also issue receipts. I hope donors would take an extra second to think instead of donating on impulse so that there can be an effective use of resources.

Hung:And the goal of Fablab Taipei has always been to create an active Maker community. Bring together top-notch talent from different sectors and spark each other’s imaginations. We hope that the make-up of this community would be more diverse and balanced.

Being a Maker is an attitude towards life and an ongoing process. While realizing an idea, how you tackle problems that crop up and enhance your skills and knowledge during the process cumulates into a product. That is the Maker attitude. I think Makers are always willing to try different possibilities to change the world, and so improve our future.

Extended Reading

(Editor:PeiHsuan Lai)

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