Gershenfeld wanted to introduce expensive, industrial-size machines to the technical students. However, this class attracted a lot of students from various backgrounds: artists, architects, designers, students without any technical background. In his interview to CNN , Gershenfeld said that "the students Gershenfeld feels very passionate about this project, as he believes that teaching kids how to use technology and create it themselves will empower the future generations to become more independent and create technology that each individual community needs, not a technology that is currently available on the market. Fab labs have spread around the world, having been established in the remotest of places and countries.
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Media can only be downloaded from the desktop version of this website. He developed self-contained fabrication shops equipped with the latest rapid-prototyping equipment — laser cutters, computer-controlled milling machines, 3-D printers, and so on — that could be easily installed anywhere in the world. MIT News asked Gershenfeld to describe the growth and impact of this project.
Q: I understand that the core of the Fab Lab idea has to do with the concept of digital fabrication. Just what is digital fabrication? A: The first computer-controlled milling machine was made at MIT in Since then, many kinds of end effectors — the part of a manufacturing machine that actually does the work — have been introduced, both adding material to an object and subtracting material from one. Digital computing and communications rest on threshold theorems, which show that by manipulating discrete symbols rather than continuous quantities, imperfect devices can operate more or less perfectly.
A third digital revolution is now underway that is extending this insight into fabrication, by discretizing not just the description of a design but also the materials that it is made from, in the same way that living systems are assembled from a small set of amino acids. Collaborative CBA projects are coding construction of systems ranging from molecular machines, to integrated electronics, to aircraft and space structures. Q: Can you describe what a Fab Lab is?
A: CBA runs a digital fabrication research facility that was originally created with National Science Foundation support.
That contains tools worth millions of dollars, with a research roadmap leading up to a Star Trek-style replicator. Fab Labs began as a modest outreach project for the NSF, to expand access to these capabilities. They unexpectedly spread into a global network, now approaching 1, labs. That includes 3-D scanning and printing, large-format and precision machining, computer-controlled lasers and knives, surface-mount electronics production, embedded programming, and computing tools for design and collaboration.
The Internet was developed many years before the personal computer, on minicomputers that matched the size, cost, and complexity of a Fab Lab. Likewise, real personal fabricators are still many years off, but Fab Labs today emulate what they will eventually be able to do. Highlights from it included the leadership of Boston, Somerville, and Cambridge, Massachusetts, joining Barcelona in a year countdown to urban self-sufficiency; legislation in Congress to charter a National Fab Lab Network; and a pop-up lab that followed at the U.
General Assembly. Q: How does this all fit within the Institute? Digital computing is taught in computer science, digital communication in electrical engineering; how is digital fabrication taught?
That was aimed at a small group of students doing this research, but it has been overwhelmed every year by hundreds of students wanting to take the class. What I enjoy most is how this crosses classroom boundaries, with students ranging from new undergrads to new faculty members, and with artists teaching engineers about engineering, and engineers teaching artists about art. There have also been interesting implications for Institute policy, such as being able to treat making on an equal footing as studying.
This platform is now being used for a second class in biotechnology, called How To Grow almost Anything , led by George Church. This for me is the ultimate implication.
MIT can fit a few thousand people, out of a planet of a few billion.
3 Questions: Neil Gershenfeld and the spread of Fab Labs