On the Amazon river everything floats, including fablabs. Miriam Engle, an American labtrotter who toured the European labs on a bicycle in 2015, is exploring South America. In Peru, she supports the Floating fablab, a narco-traffiker boat converted into an environmentally responsible lab.
Iquitos (Peru), correpondence
The Floating fablab (FLF) has existed as a project concept for three years, but we recently took our first step toward making it a concrete reality: we have a boat! Project founder Beno Juarez, co-director of Fab Lab Lima in Peru, formally introduced the concept for the Floating fablab in August 2013, during FAB9, the international fablabs conference held in Yokohama, Japan. In September 2015 during the UN Solutions Summit in New York, he presented this project made to promote cultural and environmental conservation in the Amazon. His concept? To install a fablab on a fully sustainable boat that will drift up and down a portion of the Amazon River, delivering education and access to technology to the many underserved communities that live there.
The Summit recognized the long-term work of grassroots projects developing solutions to one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, an international endeavor to foster a happier, healthier world. The Floating fablab addresses most of the Sustainable Development Goals in one way or another, but goals 9, 10, and 11 are especially applicable: to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation; to reduce inequality within countries; and to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. The FLF will serve as a mobile hub for research into bioremediation, while also encouraging social inclusion by bringing education and technology to neglected communities.
A project scaled for South-America
Since 2013, more than 50 volunteers from 20 different countries have been inspired to get involved, lending a range of expertise from management technique to design strategy. Team members meet online once a week to discuss developments in our particular sectors, but for the most part we operate according to our own sense of purpose.
Many fablabs, including Argentina, Monterrey (Mexico), El Salvador, Roma Makers, and the entire Peruvian network, have been involved, participating in a 2014 design workshop to brainstorm early concepts for the boat.
A drug dealers boat turned into a fablab
In the past three years, the FLF has established collaborative relationships with various local businesses, NGOs, and government organizations. Support from the Peruvian Naval Marines has been particularly strong. Since 2014, the FLF has been collaborating with the Servicios Industriales de la Marina (SIMA, the shipyard for Marine industrial services), which builds and renovates ships for the Peruvian Navy. In 2014, SIMA offered to store and provide renovations for the pilot floating lab. Juan Diaz, head of SIMA Iquitos, said SIMA “is proud to contribute to this important project to benefit all peoples of the Peruvian Amazon.”
The Marines frequently apprehend narcotics traffickers on the Amazon River and confiscate their vessels. One such confiscated boat, named Yonatan, was donated to the FLF in May 2016 to serve as the prototype for the project! Captain Santiago Cobos of SIMA works with the Peruvian government to implement improvements for communities living in the remotest parts of the Amazon. He says: “This boat can be the beginning of the large project that will be worked on by SIMA Iquitos.”
Yonatan is currently docked at the SIMA Iquitos shipyard awaiting renovations. He is to be expanded a few meters in each direction to reach a size of 7×36 meters, which will provide better stability and also enough room for a large auditorium, which will contain the necessary machines for digital fabrication and a space to host workshops.
“I think the fablab will bring a platform of knowledge that will help improve the pollution and contribute significantly to development.”
Captain Santiago Cobos of the Peruvian Navy
A lab-boat in the jungle
“Our biggest challenge will be the materials,” Beno said about the upcoming renovations. “We would like to research the integration of local materials with digital fabrication. Most of the jungle people make houses and other local constructions using bio materials such as palms but that’s quite dangerous for fire. We have a lot of storms in the jungle with lightning. It’s part of the risk of living in the jungle. So, our first challenge is how to use these local materials but also develop a safety framework to account for fire and heavy rain.”
The upcoming Crowdfunding campaign, scheduled to begin after FAB12 Shenzhen, China, in August, will be crucial to procure the funds to renovate and outfit the ship as a fully functional and sustainable mobile Fab Lab. Team members are currently investigating the best platform to host their campaign, and have decided that the project would be best represented by a specifically Latin American platform, such as Ideame.
“We would really like to involve the global community in the construction of the boat,” Beno said. “Our FabSourcing system will give people the opportunity to donate machines or supplies and also to develop part of the boat and deliver it to the jungle for assembly. We are going to make a pilot program for FabSourcing after FAB12 and then we would like to implement it in the ultimate construction of the boat.”
A network of 10 floating fablabs
Beno envisions a network of floating fablabs spanning 2000 kilometers of the Amazon River, stretching from the River’s source in Nauta, Peru into central Brazil. Ten boats will cover roughly 200km each and will work closely together, easily swapping supplies and information. A network of stationary fablab “nodes” will be established at advantageous locations on shore, at which the mobile boats can dock and FLF team members can venture into the jungle to reach inhabitants further away from the riverfront.
Beno’s long-term vision may sound like a wildly ambitious dream, but the donation of the boat Yonatan by the Naval Marines has proved it is possible to accomplish. “We expect to launch the Floating fablab at the beginning of the next year,” Beno said.
Read here our interview with Miriam Engle and the photographer Madison Worthy during their bike tour of European labs