27 September 2006

Fab Labs deliver innovative solutions to local needs [Christian Science Monitor]

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Fab Lab
Fab Labs are different than the myriad other nonprofit programs working to introduce technology to disadvantaged communities. The MIT professors who came up with the Fab Lab concept believed that rural villagers in India, sheep herders in Norway, and impoverished teens in the Pretoria township of Shoshanguve – anyone anywhere, really – could learn to create technology, as well as use it.

“The capabilities are there,” says Sherry Lassiter, program manager for MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, which developed the Fab Labs. “What we’re trying to do is to give them access to the knowledge and the tools.”

The labs are part of what the Center for Bits and Atoms believes is a trend toward widespread personal fabrication. This is the idea that, not long from now, individuals will be able to manufacture goods at home in the same way they now use personal computing.

The Fab Labs are filled with modern manufacturing equipment [and] show how personal fabrication can empower communities. Once people learn the basics of the Fab Labs’ computers and manufacturing equipment, they can start developing their own solutions to local problems.

In rural India, for instance, inventors at a Fab Lab are developing a machine to measure the fat content of milk and to sound an alarm when that milk is about to turn sour – important for local dairy farmers. In the mountains of Norway, the local Fab Lab inventors are developing a monitoring device for herders to put on sheep, which would give the animals’ location, body temperature, and other statistics. In Ghana, inventors are working on portable, hand-held solar panels to charge appliances such as televisions and refrigerators.

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