RadioShack used to be a local hangout for young electronics geeks looking for parts or advice, but in recent years the company has pushed away from do-it-yourself projects and toward consumer electronics. Now, RadioShack has signaled a move back toward the DIY community, releasing a survey to ask makers what parts they'd like to see for sale. And this fall, all RadioShack stores will start stocking Arduino hardware, according to Amy Shineman, the retailer's director of consumer and product marketing.
"We miss having the consumer group in our stores," she says. "We feel like they're an audience that is being underserved."
Computer-design giant Autodesk has long supported programs such as the annual student competition FIRST Robotics, but this year they took the unexpected step of acquiring Instructables, a website devoted to DIY enthusiasts, particularly young ones.
"Our CEO is a giant maker, along with a lot of our upper staff," says Jesse Harrington Au, Autodesk's official "maker advocate." The company hopes to introduce Instructables to a broader audience.
The website's founder, Eric Wilhelm, says his readers share a need for individual expression. "They want to learn how to make physical objects and customize things in the way that they can easily personalize things in the digital world," he says. To him, the benefit of working with your hands is obvious: "Engagement. Just being engaged with your world leads to all sorts of positive outcomes."
Back home in Phoenix, Joe heads out once a week to the local "Hackerspace" in nearby Mesa, Ariz. These communal sites have popped up all over the country, offering makers the chance to meet, collaborate, and use more advanced equipment, such as 3-D printers and laser cutters.
With his marshmallow cannon complete, Joe has bigger projects in his sights. He'd like to build an electric car, but that will require more money and new skills, such as welding.