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Maker Faire: Mad science for the masses

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"The Arduino really lowered the bar of how much you needed to know just to get some interesting electronics going," he says.

Recently, inexpensive 3-D "printers" have also made creating things more accessible. These devices generate physical objects, such as small figurines or parts, by squirting out plastic or resin to build up objects layer by layer, all according to a computer model.

As more makers spread their wings, corporate America is starting to take notice.

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.

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