Makers of the fourth industrial revolution

Andy Wong, Senior Vice President - Global Design Solutions, Avnet AsiaAI. Robotics. The Internet of Things. 3D prints. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is underway, challenging various industries with its melding of the physical and the digital space. Many are ripe for disruption as smartphone and smart device hyper-connectivity injectedbreakthroughs in production, management, and governance. The mainstream adoption of emerging technologies heralds an era of endless opportunities that exceed what we achievedthrough information technology and automation.

Budding entrepreneurs and small businesses canuse these tools to fill market gaps and capture market share left behind by both old and new firms, like the recent power vacuum left behind by Uber as it exited the Southeast Asian market.The region’s appetite for ride-hailing reopens market opportunities fortraditional taxi companies that carry app-based platforms for their users. However, these traditional firms face stiff competition from newer rival app-based ride-hailing businesses like Ryde and Go-Jek as theyrefined their products to better cater to their growing customer base – users who rely on the convenience of newer technologies.

The democratization of emerging technologies and a growing list of startup-unicorn success storiesspurred a new wave of DIY hobbyists and inventors to create better productsthroughreadily-accessible professional tools and knowledge. Gone are the days wheremulti-million-dollar conglomerates solely owned the innovation journey.

These new-age inventors – collectively referred to as “makers” – experiment and create exciting prototypes before realizing them commercially.They are part of a “maker movement” where they test their creations in publicly-available collaborative DIY workspaces to come up with The Next Big Thing. It’s through innovation and the maker movement that brought us products like the Creative Sound Blaster sound cards and the high-speed Razer gaming mice from the 90s, which resulted inother bigger technology players coming in to compete within those markets in recent years.

Making sense and products

Shenzhen, China, has doled out US$145 million in grants to lure thousands of entrepreneurs to grow their maker culture, with several million more poured into maker activities and“makerspaces” for makers to gather. The city is a cultural hot-pot of engineers, computer programmers, artists, designers, and even children who collaborate and following through on fresh designs, with due credit given to makers regardless of professional experience.

The education shift that cultivated innovative thinking and learning-by-doing resulted in an abundance of youths who are eager to adopt new technologies that defy conventional industrial endeavors. For instance, 3D-printing providers bring makers and end-consumers closer to prototyping their work through manufacturing hubs and raw-material access. Such agents of transformation empower and foster communities around the globe, while they promote a sense of entrepreneurship.

Today, users can realize their inventions through early monetization models withcrowdfunding sites like KickStarter, and use resource centers like Hardware Studio tobecomefirst-adopters of new technologies in their self-made devices.

While some of these maker resources are firmly in place, technology firms can still do more to encourage and guide them. Typically, a maker’s passion can often get stalled when their creative ideas meet the hard realities of volume production.This friction is particularly prevalent with Internet of Things (IoT) innovations.It is not uncommon for innovators to start with tools like a Raspberry Pi board to develop proof-of-concepts sufficient enough to attract financing or investors. Converting that idea into a mass-producible product that people will buy is a whole other matter.

Makings of real world

Beyond community outreach and workshops, technology companies canclose the maker’s production gap by fostering the maker culture. Firms can offer assistance to budding entrepreneurs, helping them overcome technical challenges throughout the maker’s journey. For instance, technology firms can nourish existing maker communities with a “one-stop center” for makers to congregate and receive real-time feedback on their process. Makers can seek support for ideation and design, while technology companies use their experience in the hardware space to help makers go from prototypes to production models. Such outlets can also exemplify maker creativity itself with the use of encrypted video feeds for makers to communicate directly with industry players.
Giving makers a goal to strive towards would also require the big players to set a competitive standard that’s visible and attainable for makers. In Hong Kong, makers can tap into exciting events like the Elevator Pitch Competition, where 100 start-ups have 60-seconds in the ICC skyscraper’s elevator to pitch IoT solutions to business for a shot at an investment prize of US$120,000.

Where a maker’s future lies

Technology partners with critical operations in the IoT market would exponentially benefit from a matured maker culture. We can expect 11 billion IoT products to be in use by the end of the year, reaching 20.4 billion products by 2020 with a global economic impact of up to US$6.2 trillion until 2025.Smart cities around the world expedite IoT spending across several industries, with manufacturing and transportation taking the IoT lead.India is primed to capture 20 percent of the global IoT market share by 2020 with guiding hand on establishing their smart cities, supporting their IoT-specific facilities for skill development, along with other several government-led initiatives. In China, network operators have already launched commercially-ready narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) networks since the start of the year, as they bide time until 2020 wherenationwide NB-IoT coverage becomes a norm.

In the meantime, a full-value support ecosystem will kick-start makers in making their mark on this changing landscape. Makers, when combining partner resources, turn theoretical innovations into enterprise-ready solutionson a global scale. Technology firms, with their supply connections and in-house support, let makers build meaningful products sooner. They shorten the time makers need to create a company, develop pilot builds, manufacture prototypes, and engineer mass-scale solutions. By energizing makers with the right tools and resources, we can prepare a generation to thrive in a world of change and create solutions to overcome the biggest issues that are facing our world today.

For example, the evolving retail sector sorely needs real-world applications of embedded vision devices. A machine-learning AI system complemented by vision-embedded components can help purchasersstay alerted to inventory changes and predict shopping habits.Unmanned brick-and-motor shops in the offline world can prevent shop theft with the help of a vision-enabled electronic vendor that reads shopper behaviors through facial recognition and gait analysis.A maker can satisfy those requirements through their creations, should the ecosystem that supports their culture prove to be fruitful.

Successful solutions can revolutionize the inner workings of each respective industry, and the circle of innovation between makers and larger tech firms continues. Makers, augmented with these resources and networks, shift their societies towards resilience and sustainability.Right now, the possibilities are endless.