Graphic artist, electronics hacker, and pinball enthusiast, Ben Heck has made a mark in both the maker community and the world of hackable engineering. Armed with geeky humor, an array of hardware from element14, and his trusty red tweezers (the same pair for 20+ years), this maker-community hero spends each week hacking, modding, and redesigning everything from an Xbox360 to an AVR development board for thousands of viral viewers each week.
Ben Heck’s Madison, WI-based studio houses an array of engineering delight. With an ancient altimeter in the bathroom and an Edison versus Tesla poster in the foyer (for a future pinball project), it can’t be denied that this host has a passion for engineering.
Like any reputable engineer, Heck is both resourceful and practical. As he has struggled with feature creep and taking on projects that are simply too large, Heck has embraced the web as a powerful resource for engineering and tweaking his designs. He explains, “as we all know, even professionals need to go on the internet quite often and find solutions. Everybody has questions.”
Heck has become an icon of what is known as the maker movement, in which tinkerers are empowering themselves with CAD and 3D printers to begin designing and engineering solutions in their homes or garages. The gap between the amateur maker and the professional engineer is still significant, but it is slowly closing. Heck says, “The economies of scale have really brought this [exchange] about. Even in the 90s these things existed; stepper motors, CNC machines, 3D printers, and microcontrollers. But, there was no gateway drug for engineering. Now we have things like the Arduino.” Arduino is an open-source electronic prototyping platform.
The significance of entry level, yet complex and expensive hardware and programming, is apparent. Since 3D printers have come down in price and components like Raspberry Pi and Arduino boards are finding themselves in the limelight, the maker community is making colossal strides. “Things like [Arduinos and 3D printers] give people an immediate and tangible result, which gets them excited about doing the next thing. When you’re stuck behind a labyrinth of tools you need to use, that’s disheartening to people,” explains Heck. Access to easy-to-use tools allows more ideas to come to the maker-space table, and suddenly, creativity begins driving cost-effective innovation outside of a professional setting.