2006/08/31

Fab Lab and Media Lab

Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a Fab Lab and a Media Lab. Milwaukee may soon be launching similar labs at Bucketworks.

Fab Labs have been a topic of interest to me ever since I read about them while doing research for a nanotechnology program at a local technical college. On the MIT Fab Lab 'About' webpage, it says, "By making accessible engineering in space (down to microns, through precision machining) and time (down to microseconds, through RISC microcontrollers), these facilities have been uncovering what can be thought of as instrumentation and fabrication divides, and suggesting that they can be addressed by bringing IT development rather than just IT to the masses." Neil Gershenfeld, the MIT mastermind behind Fab Lab says, "In a sense, this is like open-source software, but for hardware."

Another way to think of the Fab Labs is as a predecessor for nano-replicators or matter compilers as talked about in Neal Stephenson's "Diamond Age". A well-equipped Fab Lab, with sophisticated open source software tools, will allow an Ordinary Citizen to make an amazing number of physical products that their mind can conceptualize. In the near future, SourceForge will likely host some really cool open source projects to convert Google Sketch-Up drawings into 3D drawings which can be used by 3D printers, mini-mills and laser cutters to make Ordinary Citizen's imagination come to life.

Media Lab is currently beyond my ken, but Justin K says "...while at GenCon, Jon and I took a break and went to the Art Museum, yes, we saw real art like Rembrant, but we also got to see the XRAY room that featured a 3d display that was powered by two DLP projectors, and polarized lenses. The display featured an arty version of the doom 1 engine and a 3d landscape that you could walk through, it made the original Doom engine look cool again. The room inspired us to think of uses for it like: putting two cameras on Jon and Pehr's remote controlled GoKart, or to visualize Jon's reactor better with a real-time 3d display for a barcamp presentation. The idea is there, but what could you use it for? Is anyone interested in building a media lab at Bucketworks? We have a few MIT folk around here, maybe we could inspire them to help us build a media lab that rivals MIT? Maybe a 3d display has some other value to the community like art, or rapid visualization?"

So, inspired by Justin, I added a session to the list for BarCampMilwaukee about a Bucketworks Fab Lab & Media Lab. As a start to making this session worthwhile, I sent an email to an MSOE person inquiring about connecting the MSOE Rapid Prototyping Center with BarCampMilwaukee and the Bucketworks Fab Lab project. Between now and September 30, I need to do a bunch more work (help wanted!) on getting the right people to the session and getting some neat Fab Lab or Media Lab equipment, tools and supplies to make it an interesting time.

Got ideas or want to participate in the Bucketworks Fab Lab & Media Lab? Show up at BarCampMilwaukee on September 30 - October 1, 2006, or come to the Tech Work Day at Bucketworks on September 10.

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