Anupama Gowda and Pavan Kumar, first encountered at the FAB12 international fablab conference in Shenzhen, created the very first fablab in Bangalore, India, under a metro station. For Makery, Anupama Gowda tells its story.
Since April 2015, occupying 460m2 nestled under the Halasuru metro station in downtown Bangalore, India, the Workbench Projects makerspace welcomes the public seven days a week, offering its members all the tools of a fully equiped fablab, in addition to a café that serves everything from a complete English breakfast to pasta primavera to Caesar salad.
More than a fabcafé, it’s also a space for coworking, education and discovery, an incubator for start-ups, a storehouse for maker tools and other “weapons of mass construction”. In short, it’s a friendly space for developing ideas and projects in collaboration with others.
Co-founder Anupama Gowda, arts educator, tells Makery about the history of their pioneering makerspace.
Origins of the lab
“In 2011-2012, as one of the directors of an educational services company in India called BrainSTARS (Brains for Science & Technology Aided Research and Services), I embarked on a very ambitious project to build a math activity center for schoolchildren between grades 3 and 8. NumberNagar turned out to be the very first hands-on learning center for schoolchildren that was conceived and developed in India. This involved extensive collaboration with cross-disciplinary specialists—students, teachers, parents, academics, space and visual designers, alongside a lot of functional designers. In my journey leading the product development, I had [engineer] Pavan join me as a ‘co-conspirator’. We soon realized that the prototype was our greatest challenge, as we did not have a one-stop shop for rapid prototyping. Most of our time was spent finding the right resources, tools and machines to iterate. What could have been achieved in one-fourth the time had taken us a year. This was a wake-up call to start a space of our own for people like us—people who needed a place that, instead of draining their energy, would give them the opportunity to realize their ideas in the most viable manner. That was our reason to start Workbench Projects.”
Under the Bangalore metro
“In 2014, BMRCL (Bengaluru Metro Rail Corporation) launched a tender offer to occupy the space under Halasuru station. We underwent a long, drawn-out 8 to 10 months before we were finally awarded the space in November 2014. Then in record-breaking 4 months, the space was built from scratch to finish. From the very beginning of articulating our vision, we spoke of ‘responsible innovation’, ‘public laboratory’ and a highly accessible space for all. This also meant that we would look for a public space that we could reclaim to make a new start, even though working with the government in India is not preferred by most professionals for all the red-tapism it holds.”
“Workbench Projects has grown organically. What started out as a modest makerspace has since grown over time to become the very first fablab in Bangalore. Now a lot of start-ups use it as a co-working space. As the need arose, the space added features, from extending to accommodate a fully functional café to product packaging to executing service-based orders for varied clients, in order to sustain the space.
Workbench Projects 2.1 is looking toward becoming an incubator for hardware enthusiasts, mostly inspired by HAX in Shenzhen, China. Regardless of what the desire is, the spirit of playful tinkering for beginners to hobbyists will have a space, even if it is scaled to become India’s premier hardware incubator.”
In the heart of India’s Silicon Valley
Nestled in the IT hub of India, it certainly has been exciting. We are continually watched and often invited to collaborate to ensure there is a good mix at both ends of the spectrum (software-hardware). With the Prime Minister’s Make In India initiative in September 2014, the maker movement is loosely spoken of at all forums, and in some instances taken completely out of context. But so far there has been no support for maker culture, except through the lens of skills development. It is important to note that there is a dedicated semi-public National Skills Development Corporation, which hopes to open doors in support of maker culture. But this will be a long process, as we need to sensitize the department functionaries on the purpose and need to nurture makers in a developing country such as ours, while at the same time hand-hold makers to keep their work grounded (for example, running a dedicated ‘maker track’ at the Make in India Festival).
“Girls Gone Tech”
“We had a strong conviction that something had to be done to empower young girls with knowledge, skills and an active interest in the different aspects of science and technology. So we launched the ‘Girls Gone Tech’ program—workshops that combine free play and technology, keeping in mind the interest it would generate for young girl students as well as knowledge they could learn in an enjoyable manner. Paper Circuits, an interactive method of lighting up artwork on paper with LEDs, was a huge success among all the girls in the various schools we visited, both private and public. The girls exhibited creativity, enthusiasm and quick understanding of the basic principles of electricity and circuits, as well as a heightened interest in the topic even after the conclusion of the workshop. Scratch Programming was the other highly successful workshop, using the simple but fun computer program by MIT. Animating characters, storyboarding and creating games are some of the hundreds of applications of Scratch that appeal hugely to a child’s sense of play, all the while teaching him or her the basics of coding. Seeing these girls becoming quickly adept at making the paper circuits or creating animations on screen using Scratch made us realize that this is a crucial start on the journey of a girl maker. The potential these girls have from a young age is often underestimated by many. This initiative has truly been an eye-opener for us as facilitators on the need to take forward such programs and not leave it as a one-time involvement.”
“We emphasize our total support of makers invested in ‘responsible innovation’: projects that present both quantitative and qualitative impact. Among our member projects are an architect building a tidal-wave energy harvestor that is affordable to homes on the coastal belt of India, and a team that is building assistive devices for the physically disabled using the power of cane. We offer full-fledged assistance in realizing their prototypes, and in some instances, providing our services toward product development.
As facilitators of Workbench Projects, we want to help users of our space make connections and forge new collaborations. We are constantly on the look-out for specialists who can align to our thinking, and we provide a platform for experiments and explorations without reservations. This has indeed worked magic for us.”
Workbench Projects, interview of the founders on the Sriharsha Innovation Show, 2016: