The annual meeting of fablabbers came to an end on July 8 in Barcelona, after an intense week of workshops, talks and beach parties.
From our correspondent in Barcelona
This year, FAB10 welcomed 600 participants during the first three days of the congress, and close to 1,000 during the symposium—almost twice the number of last year’s edition in Tokyo, confirming Moore’s Law, which Fabfoundation founder Neil Gershenfeld regularly uses to describe the expansion of the fablab phenomenon: « If ever there is a FAB20 ten years from now, statistically it will be enormous. And it will be horrible. Here, what’s great is that we can all get to know each other and that we are all, in some way, pioneers… » Sherry Lassiter, FabFoundation director, follows his lead: « I was at a meeting recently about education issues and we were 10,000. It was atrocious. I no longer had any reason to be there. I don’t want the same thing to happen to us. »
But what if the future of the international meeting of fablabbers was built on regional networks, like FabLat and FabAsia? The Asian network recently held a sub-meeting titled FAN1 (fablabs asian network #1), which could lead to other such events.
Laboratories of Almost Anything
The role of the FabAcademy was more than ever reaffirmed as a major tool to tighten the network around « gurus » trained by MIT mentors in various fablabs via video-conferencing. « The FabAcademy is not a MOOC (Massive Online Open Classroom). I’m allergic to MOOCs, » declared Gershenfeld, underlying the importance of this distributed teaching model for the future development of fablabs. Echoing his MIT course « How to Make Almost Anything », the FabAcademy is a five-month-long series that is accessible to all (for $5,000), with classes being held simultaneously in different fablabs of the network. The « Academy of (Almost) Anything » announced at FAB10 introduces a new connection between digital fabrication and molecular biology—now directly linked to the Center for Bits and Atoms, which programs matter and manipulates atoms like bits.
Africa, queen of the first FabAwards
One of the highlights of the first FabAwards was the success of W.Afate, the first 3D printer designed in Africa, in Togo, from reclaimed electronic waste. This project, led by Woelab (fablab, Togo) symbolizes the direction of the movement for African communities. While the fablab movement is still struggling on the African continent, this recognition from the international community was an unmistakable sign. WoeLab’s Koffi Sénamé, standing next to Dodji of the Defko Yaw Rek fablab in Dakar, spoke about the « High/Low Tech » values involved in African fablabs and makerspaces.
«We have a world to change. » – Neil Gershenfeld
« Sitting here in the heart of Barcelona, » says Gershenfeld, « a new city is invented, where everyone can have access to tools so that it can become entirely autonomous. All the obstacles that we encounter are in fact the project itself. Changing the structures of our society is the most difficult part, but also the most innovative. We must build this new mode of organization. » At FAB10, this begins with the launch of FabShare and FabEconomy, two online platforms that complement the FabAcademy’s .edu with a .org and a .com.
However, the symposium that concluded FAB10 forced all the participants to acknowledge a sometimes painful gap between intentions and economic reality. On stage, Nike and Airbus explained that « Waste is the new gold » and that innovation as it seems to be defined by the hands of the makers disrupts their modes of conception, whether it’s production cycles or fabrication modes of their products.
Bruce Sterling, science-fiction author and high-tech guru, was the self-proclaimed troublemaker of the party by offering up a skeptical portrait of the future of smartcities and other fabcities, complete with an ironic list of big companies that are already drooling over the smartcity market. The sci-fi author concluded: « You can always try. I will be watching. »
Meanwhile, rendez-vous at FAB11 in Boston and FAB12 in China. From personal fabrication to mass production?