MIT meets Manc: new Fab Labs open up RP to the masses

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Boasting it’s position as the UK’s new manufacturing heartland (as one tongue-firmly-in-cheek speaker put it: “Sorry West Midlands”) the North West now boasts a Fab Lab.

Yes, it’s not on everyone’s radar, but the Fab Lab is an accidental creation of the world renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). With Fab Labs popping up around the world, it was only a matter of time before one appeared on our shores in fully funded, fix-placed form.

Manchester might not have been everyone’s first guess, but it has the credentials (birthplace of the industrial revolution, home to over 20 nobel prize winners, the place where Rolls met Royce) and, judging by the list of sponsors queuing up to back it, they have the support.
They didn’t hold back on the launch – two days, one at the Fab Lab Manchester and another today at the House of Commons, London – and promptly brought forward the man responsible for the growth of the global spread of Fab Labs, Professor Neil Gershenfeld. As director of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, Gershenfeld explores the boundaries between the analog and digital worlds, in this case bringing digital fabrication to the fore for everyone to use and experiment with.

Already the lab is having an effect, with both local designers, schools and industries making use of its rapid prototyping machinery. However it is part of a bigger picture, with an emphasis on digital fabrication being personal fabrication. For example, the Norway Lab has designed mobile phones for keeping track of sheep; the Afghanistan Lab has worked on prosthetic limbs, and the South African Lab has created $10 computers to hook people up to the internet.

What remains to come out of Manchester remains to be seen, but we’ll be keeping a close eye on proceedings in the coming months.


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