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April 3, 2012 12:15 am

Fab Labs Bring Digital Fabrication Equipment to Labs Around the World

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On Wednesday, March 28, the Natural Science & Mathematics Colloquium (NS&M) series continued as Dr. Rehmi Post from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Center for Bits and Atoms presented a lecture in Schaefer 106 at 4:40 p.m. on the growing phenomenon of Fab Labs.

The Fab Lab project began as an inner-city outreach program at MIT to allow access to modern-day high-tech prototyping, design, and production equipment for small communities. What began as a small project in Boston has now expanded around the world, with more than 100 Fab Labs now operating in places like Afghanistan, France, Norway, South Africa, New Zealand, Russia, and several states across the U.S. “Instead of having to push the Fab Lab idea out, people came to the Center for Bits and Atoms saying, ‘We want to open a lab,’” said Post.

On March 28, Rehmi Post discussed the Fab Lab project, which started as an inner-city outreach program and is now an international project. (Photo by Morgan Young)
On March 28, Rehmi Post discussed the Fab Lab project, which started as an inner-city outreach program and is now an international project. (Photo by Morgan Young)

The small labs, which can be started with around $40,000 worth of parts each, all have core capabilities with the focus on digital fabrication, but also can service a variety of specific services based on its location. Post described the labs as places “to let people not from a scientific background use… for whatever crazy ideas they come up with.” According to Post, the labs “allow for empowerment, education, problem solving, job creation, and invention.”

Digital fabrication, explained by Post, is part of the digital revolution taking place in the world over the past 70 years. The first step was the switch from analog to digital communication in 1945, then from analog to digital computation in 1955, and finally analog to digital fabrication starting in 1995. “Two million electronics alone end up in land fills every year because they can’t be taken apart and put back together to make other things,” said Post. “But with electronic fabrication, there is no waste.”

The next step in making the Fab Labs work is training people in how to use the equipment. Through a one-semester class offered through the Fab Academy at MIT called “How to Make (Almost) Anything,” meant for people not necessarily from a science background, students receive “advanced digital fabrication instruction… through a unique, hands-on curriculum and access to technological tools and resources,” according to the academy’s webpage. Other Fab Labs that participate in the Fab Academy program include 13 labs around the world, located in Peru, Ohio, Barcelona, Kenya, Amsterdam, India, and more.

In response to a question asked at the end of the lecture, Post estimates that “in 10 years, I think we’re going to see these capabilities come into the home.”

Molly Tracey, senior at Great Mills High School and incoming freshman for the class of 2016, found the lecture interesting. “It’s cool to see such opportunities for out-of-the-box thinking and a look into upcoming technological thinking.”

The NS&M Colloquium Series continues on Wednesday, April 4 at 4:40 p.m. in Schaefer 106 when Dr. Richard Olsen from the U.S. National Arboretum presents, “The Urban Forest.” The lecture will be co-sponsored by the Arboretum Group.

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