Before I get into the meat of the post, I thought I should put in a link to the “polycom" (EDIT: This link doesn’t work. THE LINK HAS BEEN FIXED, GO AHEAD AND GIVE IT A TRY) set up by MIT for people to stream the conference live. Unfortunately, Amsterdam is six hours ahead of Philly, so when we get started at 8:30 am, it’s 2:30 in Philly. Either way, give it a try between now and Friday, and maybe you can catch some Fab talk or see a little bit of what is going on.
It’s been an exciting few days so far at Fab6 in Amsterdam. After an opening night dinner at a restaurant built almost entirely of IKEA furniture, and an extremely DIY meal, we started bright and early Monday Morning. Unfortunately, I think I lost a page of notes from my first day at some point today (I think someone sketched something on the back of the page and then tore it out of the book during the projects session today), but that’s what inspired me to get a blog post done tonight, while everything is still fresh in my mind. I also have quite a few pictures (sorry for the lack of really quality pictures, these were all taken with my phone), which I will sprinkle liberally throughout the post.
The conference opened with some comments from the hosting FabLab, which may hold the title for oldest building containing a FabLab (although there is a FabLab in the Design Museum in Barcelona, which may be an older building, according to one of the employees), considering the original parts of the building date back to 1488. After being used as a location for weighing goods coming in and out of the city, it was used as a guild house for local workers, including the surgeons, who used to operate in the room in which this all took place.
Niel Gershenfeld gave some opening remarks then, reflecting on how unexpected the almost exponential growth of the FabLab program has been such a welcome surprise, and briefly discussing the road map for where the program and the so-called new industrial revolution is heading. He made an analogy comparing the free libraries Carnegie set up, and the expansion of literacy to the average person that was created, to the growing number of FabLabs and the “new literacy” (with technology, and fabrication know how) they foster.
He also mentioned a very exciting bill which is being put before Congress by Bill Foster (a physicist and a Congressman), which would set up a nationally funded National Fab Lab Network, with a goal of one lab per 700,000 people (roughly 443 total). Let’s hope this bill gets passed soon.
After some quick logistics explanations, representatives from each lab were given about 3 minutes each to describe themselves, and what they are up to. Some standouts were Delhi (represented by Dhananjay Gadre, who is publishing a book called “Tiny AVR Microcontroller Projects for the Evil Genius), Ian from Cleveland (who recently played in Croatia with his band, the Tesla Orchestra, featuring two giant Tesla Coils, built at the LCCC FabLab), the LCCC Fab themselves (if you do a google image search for the terms “Obama” and “Shopbot”, you can see Obama taking a close look at their Shopbot), a community art space in Providence, RI called AS220 (one of the representatives also happens to be the founder of the One Theremin Per Child project, which I think only consists of a bumper sticker at this point), and the Groningen FabLab (where they teach a papercraft workshop!).
After lunch, I attended a workshop entitle FabLab Community Building, which I’ll distill down to, for brevity’s sake, the Three Pillars of FabLabs. Together they form a triangle, and all the cool stuff that goes on at fab labs happens inside this triangle:
- the general domain (the FabLab),
- the people (that’s You!), and
- things that matter (around you).
That was followed by a workshop centered around reviving and revamping the FabFolk website, in order to keep the content fresh and useful. One thing I found rather interesting is a service called Yammer, which is essentially a clone of Twitter, although it restricts the userbase to a group which all share one e-mail domain (in this case @fabfolk.com) Addresses are free, so sign up for one and try Yammering to the Dutch Fabbers - don’t worry, they only write in Dutch on a subset of the site. A lot of the talk centered around the question of how to achieve a critical mass of users on sites like these, which is generally required before they become really useful.
From there, the conversation drifted to the subject of documentation, the amount of associated work, and reasons why people don’t go the extra mile to document their work and share what they have made. It was decided that at the very least, something ought to be done to reduce the amount of work required in order to get a decent photograph of ones work. In essence, the idea is to create some sort of permanent station for photography, featuring a camera secured somehow (10 feet of aircraft cable? a pivoting arm mounted to the wall? integrated completely into the wall?) in some sort of well-lit space ideal for taking photos. This will eliminate the need to check out a camera or get it out of a storage locker or something, as well as the need to clear space, position lights, etc. Beyond that, by using an Eye-fi memory card which uploads photos automatically to a Flickr account, much of the hassle of transferring and uploading photos can also be avoided. Not to mention the photos are instantly available online from anywhere!
This morning began with rain and more 3-minute presentations from the FabLabs in attendance, and then everybody boarded buses to attend workshops located at other FabLabs around the country. I chose to visit the Protospace in Utrecht in order to attend “FabLab 2.0”, an appraisal of the current state of machines you can make in a FabLab. Representatives were on hand to describe the current state of development from:
- Fab@Home - Hod Lipson discussed improvements to expect in v3.0
- The Mantis Milling Machine - gotta love the "eat your face" project
- Fab in a Box
That workshop continued after lunch, but I chose to instead attend a project session entitled “Casting with Green(er) Composites”, which covered the use of natural fibers from plants (like cotton) with resins derived from plants, rather than the harmful ones made from chemicals. One example is the oil produced by cashew shells, which can be used as a phenolic resin. Others can be made using corn starch or even sugar. One drawback, however is that a lot of these are water soluble.
Partially for this reason, the resin we used that afternoon was a polyurethane epoxy, which is one of the safer ones to work with. I did still manage to get some in my eye, but after ten or fifteen minutes of rinsing with water, I was happily back at work helping Keith from MIT make a boat.
The first step was creating the mold. For the parabolic dish, a laser-cut press-fit mold was put together out of cardboard. Ours however, would be a lot like the papier mache ball formed around a balloon. The only difference was that we would only be using one side of our homemade, football-shaped balloon. While the pump slowly worked to fill our makeshift balloon with air, Keith and I set about cutting the cotton fabric into strips.
With the strips ready and the balloon inflated, all that was left to do was mix resin and begin laying strips of resin-soaked fabric on the balloon. About two and a half hours and one big roll of fabric later, we were as finished as we would ever be (we had run out of fabric, and it was beginning to rain again). We covered the last layer of fabric strips with a thicker coat of resin, and then some thin clear trash bags to keep the water out, cleaned up, and headed back to Amsterdam. I hope to see on Friday weather she’s canalworthy!