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Friday, March 25, 2005

Dr Gernshenfeld & Fabulous Fabrications

(Via Economist)Dr Gershenfeld,the director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Centre for Bits and Atoms believes the world is poised for a personal-fabrication revolution,- a way to help inventors in poor countries realise their ideas. He hopes Fab lab will, be part of it.In his opinion,just as computing power moved from million-dollar mainframes to hundred-dollar PCs, industrial-scale machinery is, beginning a transition to the desktop. While personal fabricators will not replace mass production, he believes that within the next few years they will allow individuals and small businesses to customise products to their needs. At $20,000 each—the fab lab may indeed release an outpouring of frustrated talent.
Just as Startrek had the replicator—a device that could assemble any object, atom by atom- The Nutri-Matic vending machine concocted drinks molecule by molecule in, personalising them by analysing an individual's taste buds, metabolism and brainwaves, with moderate success. Neil Gershenfeld,has built version 1.0 of the personal fabricator, and it is already being deployed around the world.The "fab lab", as Dr Gershenfeld has nicknamed his invention, is a collection of commercially available machines that, while not yet able to put things together from their component atoms, can be used to make just about anything with features bigger than those of a computer chip. Among other tools it includes a laser cutter that makes two-dimensional and three-dimensional structures, a device that uses a computer-controlled knife to carve antennas and flexible electrical connections, a miniature milling machine that maneuvers a cutting tool in three dimensions to make circuit boards and other precision parts, a set of software for programming cheap computer chips known as microcontrollers, and a jigsaw (a narrow-bladed cutting device, not a picture puzzle). Together, these can machine objects with a precision of a millionth of a meter. The fab lab's purpose is to endow inventors—particularly those in poor countries who lack a formal education and the resources to implement their ideas—with a set of tools that can translate back-of-the-envelope designs into working prototypes.
Fab labs to create sensors meant for measuring fat are being deployed in Indian In Ghana, people have used the labs to produce a cassava grinder, jewellery, car parts, agricultural tools and communication equipment such as radio antennas. Solar-powered items to harness the relentless local sunlight are in the works. In Norway, Sami animal herders are using fab labs to make radio collars and wireless networks to track their charges. In Boston, the residents of a mixed-income housing complex are using the fablabs to create a wireless communication network.This opens up the opportunity in infinite ways for technology to reach the mass - helping the poor and underdeveloped in the process.

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