About a month ago my classmate Alec Resnick told me about the MIT Center for Bits & Atoms (CBA) Fab Lab he works at in Back Bay. Yesterday we finally got to visit and we are hooked. You are looking at Miles' first creation.
He created it in a drawing program in Open Office and then "printed" it on a machine that used a laser to cut his design out of 1/4" thick plastic. Miles chose to use this thick white plastic from a wide selection of materials; he could just as easily have used some other material like wood, mirror or another color of plastic. There were a few little issues, but it turned out great for a first project. In addition to the ability to just make stuff, the atmosphere in the lab is really congenial and communal.
But the goal of the Fab Lab is much greater than to just let people like us make cool stuff, their goal is to bridge the fabrication divide. The fab lab concept and outreach is one of the most exciting things I've been exposed to at MIT, if you have a chance, watch this brief talk that Neil Gershenfeld, CBA Director, gave at TED about a year ago. When I viewed it, it took my breath away.
Fab labs have been opened in rural India, northern Norway, Ghana, Boston, South Africa, and Costa Rica. On the FabLabs site they list examples of what's happening at these labs:
- Fab Lab partners are working on creating mesh wireless, ad hoc networks in the Lyngen Alps of Norway to allow shepherds to keep track of their flocks from afar, and to allow fishermen to keep track of their boats at sea.
- At the Ghana Fab Lab, situated at the Takoradi Technical Institute, students are working on low-cost designs for mobile refrigeration and TV antennas.
- In Pabal, India Fab Lab users are making replacement gears for out-of-date copying machines, reliable tools for testing milk content and for diagnostics on
- At the Costa Rica Fab Lab young people are learning basic electronics and fabrication - by making functional objects with an array of sensors and actuators.
- In Boston Fab Lab users make jewelry, toys and crafts using recycled materials from the community. The projects are picked by the community based on urgency of needs and/or group interests.
All the labs have the same equipment and capabilities so it is possible to share digital designs and fabricated solutions between labs, Forming a network of intellectual property and idea exchange.