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Idea #7: Fab Labs

Imagine if instead of having to go out and buy stuff or browse online for the best deal, you could just go into your garage and make exactly what you needed. 

Imagine if you could do that for anything you wanted.

Like the idea? You need a Fab Lab.

A mobile FabLab

A mobile FabLab (thanks to Matt at No-retro.com)

The Fab Lab – fabrication laboratory – is a concept developed by Neil Gershenfeld of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms. (Have a look at Neil Gershenfeld’s TED talk here, if you can handle his 900 mph jargon bursts.)

Basically, a Fab Lab is a room full of computers and machine tools just like those used in industry, which enables people to make more or less anything they need. Typically, a Fab Lab will include:

design Design Tools

  • CAD/CAM
  • Linux-based software bank
  • Web and CMS for websites
circuits    Tools to design and make circuits and microcontrollers 
molding Moulding machines

  • Injection moulding
  • Vacuum forming
  • Wax moulding
machines Cutting machines

  • Lathes
  • Routers
  • CNC machines
  • Laser cutters
  • Vinyl cutters
  • Waterjet cutters
printing 2D and 3D printers

(Details and prices of all machines at http://fab.cba.mit.edu/about/fab/inv.html

But here’s the curious thing… Are you ready? A complete Fab Lab only costs about $20,000.

Imagine, you can make anything you want. Need a solar panel for your house? Done. Wireless antennae to keep track of your reindeer? Norwegian herders beat you to it using their Fab Lab. Or do you just want to make a circuit board for… something? Easy! This 8-year-old from Ghana did it:

Valentina Kofi - just an ordinary girl with access to industrial tools

Valentina Kofi - just an ordinary girl with access to industrial tools

Well, I don’t know about you, but as soon as I get my hands on $20,000 I shall be installing a Fab Lab in my caravan. Think of the potential ideas:

  1. Have an idea, make it.
  2. Set up a website where other people can submit their ideas and pay you to custom build them in your Fab Lab.
  3. Sell the products from 1 and 2 to anybody else who wants one.
  4. Rent out your Fab Lab to other people who want to make stuff.
  5. Don’t have the $20,000? Get some other people to chip in and share the Fab Lab.
  6. Let local schools use your Fab Lab.

The last point is a big one. When Neil Gershenfeld let his kids mess around in his FabLab they ended up creating a 3D construction system that’s simple to produce and trumped the designs that MIT students were able to come up with. The design is now going into mass production:

Nice. But... What is it?

Nice. But... What is it?

The great thing about Fab Labs is that MIT have written programs and guidelines to make everything so simple that even kids can quickly understand how to make what they want (see their website for more info). And doesn’t that make the world much more fun? Even MIT students managed to come up with a Fabaroni pasta printer that prints any shape in pasta dough:

Look! They got it to print MIT!

Look! They got it to print MIT!

There are also huge potential applications for Fab Labs in international development. In fact,  partly due to $14 million worth of funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Fab Labs have already been established in India, Ghana, South Africa, Costa Rica and Afghanistan. These labs not only enable local engineers to solve problems unique to their region, but also open up all sorts of entrepreneurial opportunities around selling the products they come up with.

If you really had to, you could probably make a gun though...

If you really had to, you could probably make a gun though...

So, basically, FabLabs are an all-round good idea. Neil Gershenfeld thinks it's just the beginning though, he envisages Fab Labs developing into something like a Star Trek replicator…

The future of Fab Labs?

The future of Fab Labs?

Did I just ruin it all by saying that?

Anyway, if you still trust the man, you could have a look at his book:

And if you have any ideas for potential uses of Fab Labs, leave a comment!

17 comments to Idea #7: Fab Labs

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