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Neil Gershenfeld and the Spread of Fab Labs

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A Fab Lab in progress.

MIT can fit a few thousand people, out of a planet of a few billion. Wherever we open a Fab Lab, we've found that it attracts exactly the same profile of bright, inventive people, Fab Lab founder Neil Gershenfeld says.

Credit: fablab

Neil Gershenfeld, director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), launched the Fab Lab a decade ago. Since then, hundreds of Fab Labs have been installed in dozens of countries. In an interview, Gershenfeld discusses the growth and impact of this outreach project.

He notes the CBA runs a digital fabrication research facility, which contains tools worth millions of dollars, with a research roadmap leading up to a Star Trek-style replicator.

The facility was created with support from the U.S. National Science Foundation, and Fab Labs began as a modest project for the agency to expand access to these capabilities.

A Fab Lab today includes three-dimensional scanning and printing, large-format and precision machining, computer-controlled lasers and knives, surface-mount electronics production, embedded programming, and computing tools for design and collaboration.

Gershenfeld says the tools make it possible to locally produce and customize products that are mass-produced today. "Real personal fabricators are still many years off, but Fab Labs today emulate what they will eventually be able to do," he notes.

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