Friday, October 25, 2013

Fab Labs are cool


The red pin marks Lyngen in the extreme north of Norway

One of my favorite places on Earth is at the northern tip of Norway in a little fjord called Lyngen.  On the western side of the bay in this remote location, miles from the nearest city of any significant population, near the northern most tip of all of Europe and well inside the arctic circle, are dramatic landscapes, the sparkling fingers of the Norwegian Sea, and really high speed internet.  You might expect to find Santa's workshop rather than a high-tech mecca in such a remote location, but as you drive down the country road there, the careful observer will notice a small sign by the side of the road that simply says, "MIT Fablab."


The Fab charter posted on the wall in Lyngen
The Fablab in Lyngen, Norway is very impressive.  It is one of 125 Fab Labs around the world built to explore how underserved communities can be empowered by technology.  Often students (many engineering students from MIT) will spend time at a Fab Lab.  Area residents with problems come in and work with the students to make and build solutions.  This started back in the days before Arduinos, Make magazine and the Internet of Things with a class taught at MIT by Neil Gershenfeld called How to Make (almost) Anything.  Neil heads the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT which grew out of the Media Lab there.  He and folks form the Grassroots Invention Group realized early on that there were tools that will change the way that we build stuff.  He anticipated the Maker movement and the transformative effect that computing would have on the physical world during a time that people were much more obsessed with making things virtual.  He even wrote a book about it.  Fab Labs are an amazing manifestation of this philosophy.
In 2011 Neil emailed me about a meeting and when I mentioned that I was in the north of Norway, he insisted that I visit the Fab Lab there.  So we did, and it was fantastic.  Haakon Karlsen, who runs the place, was an incredible host.  I was sold on Fab Labs before, but this was over the top.

The reason I am posting this all this now, two years after our visit, is that I recently came across the documentary below which features a world tour of Fab Labs.  Several scenes take place in the Lygen Fab Lab.  It is a worthy, but longish (45min) movie, so make yourself some popcorn, settle into a comfy chair, and take a look.



We learned about many amazing projects that were created at the Fab Lab in Norway.  The idea that such a beautiful place can be dedicated to collaborative technical development of this caliber is quite inspiring.
Haakon was an amazingly gracious host
Bix returns from picking berries outside the Fab Lab
You can learn more at the Fab Foundation or watch one of Neil's TED talks here