“Makerspaces come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve as a gathering point for tools, projects, mentors, and expertise. A collection of tools does not define a makerspace. Rather, we define it by what it enables: tools.” Educause, 2013
For more than 10 years Fab labs have provided widespread access to modern means for invention and production. They began as an outreach project from MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA). Fab labs have spread from inner-city Boston to rural India, from South Africa to the North of Norway. Activities in fab labs range from technological empowerment to peer-to-peer project-based technical training to local problem-solving to small-scale high-tech business incubation to grass-roots research.
Projects being developed and produced in fab labs include solar and wind-powered turbines, thin-client computers and wireless data networks, analytical instrumentation for agriculture and healthcare, custom housing, and rapid-prototyping of rapid-prototyping machines. Fab labs share core capabilities among the 1500+ labs in operation as of February 2019, so that people and projects can be shared across them.
These labs work with components and materials optimized for use in the eld, and are controlled with custom software for integrated design, manufacturing, and project management. This inventory is continuously evolving, towards the goal of a fab lab being able to make a fab lab.
Like the personal computer and Internet, digital fabrication tools such as the 3D printer, are now accessible to individuals. Like their “predecessors” they are available in public spaces such as libraries, community centers and schools, but for the last decade they’ve proliferated in spaces like FabLabs, Hackerspace or Makerspace (with their mobile versions), now in hundreds of locations around the globe.
All these digital fabrication spaces are similar, however, the FabLab network, as a label developed by MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US), is bound by a charter, a sets of pre-requisite tools, specific inventories, and a set of values around learning, sharing and the credo that it’s possible to “Make Almost Anything”.
One of the fundamental principle of the culture is accessibility, and there is ample discussion of how to encourage inclusiveness and diversity, by avoiding the limitations of a one-size-fits-all approach.
SOME OBJECTIVES OF FAB LABS
- Facilitate access to digital knowledge and fabrication machines.
- Facilitate the emergence of creative possibilities.
- Promote technical, personal and collective learning in a multi-modal learning context.
- Foster collaboration, cooperation, sharing and mutual assistance.
- Operate a global operating model in which each FabLab is well fitted to its local social and material context.
- Support models that are based on these goals / values, such as “the social economy.”