FAB14 in Toulouse is aiming for one million fablabs
Published 17 July 2018 by Elsa Ferreira
FAB14, the international meeting of fablabs and third part of an auspicious month of July for makers in France, is taking place in Toulouse from July 16-22. Makery is covering the event.
Toulouse, special envoy
Inventing the resilient city, act 3. After the Fab City Summit and FAB14 Distributed, here comes FAB14, the international community of fablabs great meeting, taking place for the 14th consecutive year and held around the theme “producing resilience”. After Shenzhen and Santiago, the place to meet is in Toulouse as of Monday, July 16. The fablab Artilect, the first to have opened in France and organizer of the event, his president and co-founder Nicolas Lassabe reminds us, is expecting 800 labs.
On the rostrum of the huge conference room, in the basement of the Pierre Baudis Congress center, Neil Gershenfeld (professor at MIT and inventor of the fablab concept) also looked at the figures in front of the 600 participants who had arrived on this first day: there are today around 1,000 fablabs worldwide. However, it isn’t the number that counts, he says, “but what we do with the programs.” He then revealed the list: Machines that Make, namely rapid-prototyping of rapid-prototyping machines, the Fab Foundation and Scopes-DF, to develop the community and STEM education, the global initiative Fab City, to develop local urban production, and Fablabs.io, the fablab community network having adopted the MIT charter. “Here is an overused quotation from the hockey player Wayne Gretzky, illustrated Neil Gershenfeld to convey his ambition for the fablab network. When asked about his secret, Wayne Gretzky answered: “Skate where the puck goes, not where it has been.” Understand: in order to have an impact on society, you need to feel the wind.
And, if we are to believe the forecasts of the founder of the movement, the winds are favorable. “Within ten years we went from 1 to 1,000 fablabs. During the next ten years, we are on the way for the million. At that moment, everything will collapse, he warns. What we have learnt for 1,000 does not work for 1 million.” The challenge of the network is therefore to be prepared for an exponential growth. To illustrate his point, the director of the Fab Foundation Sherry Lassiter launched into a PowerPoint presentation of “baby fablabs”, i.e. the children born in the community (one of which was present), and “fablab weddings”.
Gershenfeld still brought up the difficulties finding a lasting economic model while remaining optimistic: “Many among you enter the education sector,” he suggested as a conclusion.
While we wait for these super-conferences “where we won’t know each other,” already regrets Sherry Lassiter, we are making the best of the still personal atmosphere where it is easy to exchange opinions—it is in fact one of the objectives of the fab conferences: exchange and learn from one another. “Everyone is here to listen to others, said Gershenfeld. If you don’t know someone, introduce yourself. It is guaranteed that person will be interesting and have something to bring to you.”
Next were the various speeches of the applying cities to the FAB16 edition in 2021, succeeding Egypt (2019) and Montreal (2020). We are pacing a bet on the Bhoutan trio and its 38 fablabs for 800,000 inhabitants, Mexico, where Puebla has just won the title of Fab City (see our Fab City Summit report), and the capital of which is packed with makers, or Taiwan and its representative who is throwing punchlines by the second, and where one of the fablabs is found on a football pitch. “It shows to which point our team is useless,” he says in front of a hilarious audience—France won the title of world championship the previous day.
3D Cookie and taxi drone
Up to this point, regulars of the fablab great event will recognize the fine-tuned routine of the opening ceremony. Slight change however: traditionally over one day, the symposium spreads over six days (“to avoid remaining in an audience position during a whole day,” justified Gershenfeld). This first day in fact ended with the first of the week on the nutrition theme. On stage, Hod Lipson, robotics engineer who develops printers especially designed for food, Amit Zoran, digital gastronomy specialist who mixes traditional knowledge and technology, Lin Liu, wine expert, and Philippe Lejeune, biodynamic wine-grower and former geek specialized in data extraction.
While the former took stock of the advances of their technologies, still in the experimentation stage, Lui suggested research topics for those interested in climate change from wine-growers’ point of view (biodiversity, genetics and epigenetics, plasticity of varieties, evaporation…) and Lejeune reviewed his hacks (drones to monitor his vines, weather stations), while admitting nature has it reasons that reason ignores. As for resilience, we are still a bit in the dark, even if Amit Zoran gave us a line of thought: “Optimization must occur outside kitchens but also from the inside. There is a lot of waste. It is obvious technology can help.”
Tuesday, July 17, on the second day of FAB14, one took an interest in mobility with an interesting exchange of views between Sarah Fdili Alaoui, dancer, choreographer and researcher in man-machine interactions, who came to present some of her augmented choreography projects and her vision of mobility using the body; Boyd Cohen, founder of IoMob, a start-up to decentralize the mobility sector thanks to the blockchain by establishing a protocol for Internet of Mobility (IoM); Simon Johnson, who wants to develop new means of transport for rural Africa through the Lake Victoria Challenge; and Denis Descheemaeker, in charge of emerging technologies at Airbus, who came to present his urban mobility prototypes including Pop.Up, kind of taxi drone, of which the media are crazy about.
Although the issue of the acceptability of these new technologies came back to life—a concern that had already fueled the debate on nutrition—, Boyd Cohen got started: “Why is air mobility a topic that is becoming trendy? Because we totally missed mobility on ground. It’s like wanting to go on another planet because we are destroying ours. Maybe we have the means to resolve this problem more intelligently.” Thunderous applause. “And what about birds?” asks a member of the audience. Denis Descheemaeker did not have time to convince the audience of the merits of his mechanisms to frighten the obstructers. This means the flying car has a great deal to do to put the maker community on its side.
The rest of the symposiums this week is about machines, money and access. First and foremost, the community gathered around many workshops, work groups, demonstrations and other informal gatherings in the great hall of the Congress center, among the noise, the heat and the smell of plastic from 3D printers and laser cutters working on the projects. An opportunity for the community to exchange views, learn, and who knows, enlarge the family photo… Makery is following the matter. Stay tuned.
Our other articles on FAB14