“Future is written in our dreams”: Interview with Rodrigo Bautista (Forum for the Future)

Forum for The Future is a non-profit organization specialized in sustainable development. They work with companies, governments and other organizations to solve sustainability challenges. We spoke with UK-based industrial designer Rodrigo Bautista, member of the System Innovation team at Forum for the Future.

PN: Let’s talk about Forum for the Future

RB: We are an organization of around 100 people with offices in New York, London, Singapur, and many others. We help organizations and companies to be more sustainable. If they want to reduce their carbon footprint or improve their portfolio in terms of their products and services to be more sustainable, we have processes to help them. We could say we are like a think tank.

PN: But always focusing on sustainability, that is your speciality, isn’t it ?

RB: We have three big areas: Food, Energy and Sustainable Business. Regarding the Food area, we aim to change it, make it more efficient and reconnect producers with consumers. Nowadays our relationship with food is broken: we go to a supermarket and our relationship is packaged. Many children can’t even recognize fruits and vegetables. Concerning the Energy area, we address a lot of problems mainly related to the consume based in fossil fuels. We are interested in generating more circular economy models.

In Sustainable Business area we have rather an one-to-one approach. It is usually a long-term program,  to help companies by embedding sustainability in their internal processes. It is more like building capacities, it requires a lot of strategy.

We have some great tools to create future scenarios, this is also the reason of our name, Forum for the Future. For instance, Consumer Futures 2020 or Fashion Future 2025. One year ago we published the Informal City Dialogues, it was a project developed in six cities of the South hemisphere: Accra, Bangkok, Chennai, Lima, Manila, and Nairobi. We generated scenarios of how the informal economy could be by 2040.

PN: Explain to us more about how these future scenarios work…

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The Curve: From Freeloaders into Superfans – Nicholas Lovell

By choice or by force, many business are quickly turning into free. Default price in many services tends to be zero, and this situation which at first affected music, books and other items, easily reproducible by digital means, now starts to have an effect on physical items too: this was one of the impacts of the transformation of atoms into bits, and this will be one of the consequences of the transformation of bits into atoms. The free circulation of files on-line and the spread of digital fabrication join to create a new background where obtaining a particular object won’t be necessarily related to its purchase, as it could be made for free.

In his book <<The Curve: From Freeloaders into Superfans>>, Nicholas Lovell analyzes in detail this new business context where free products are taken for granted, and proposes solutions for those who are searching for a way to gain their earnings in the current situation. In Lovell’s book, you can find a very interesting and up-rising thesis: you can earn benefits from a free-of-charge business model, the key is just to understand what can you give without cost, who your customers are, and what are they willing to pay for.

The Curve Infography
The Curve Infography (thecurveonline.com)

Of course, this needs further explanation.

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Interview with Massimo Banzi: cofounder of Arduino

The year 2005 was full of big shocks: Hurricane Katrina, Indonesia big blackout, Avian Flu… and amongst all this, it was born a big invention, one with potential enough to solve many shocks in the future: Arduino. It was born in Ivrea, Italy, originally as a tool for students who needed cheaper hardware for their electronic projects. But there it was the seed of the next revolution: Open Hardware. The spread of Arduino has been immensely broad, enabling people throughout the world to develop a vast number of inventions which wouldn’t have the chance of existing without this “magic board”. In 2005, it was not hard to imagine free software, but to envision open hardware you needed to be really a visionary.

And the visionary was Massimo Banzi, cofounder of the Arduino project, who conceived an open-source platform to make electronics universally available and, most of all, to create a community strongly engaged with this vision. As an icon of open- source and Maker movements, we felt privileged to have the chance of talking with him during Fab 10 Barcelona and asking him for some ins and outs of Arduino wave.

P.N. When you started with Arduino, did you imagine it would grow as much as it has grown ?

M.B. No, no, no. It started off as a tool for my students, to teach my students. They are Design students, so they are very clever, very intelligent. They design the products that we use everyday, products based in technology, in electronics. I needed something that it would allow them to learn about electronics very quickly, so they could actually make, you know, imagine the products of the future. We made it for them. And then, obviously, afterwards it became useful for other people, artists, musicians, and makers in general, and then kids. So there were a lot of different groups of people that found the system that we started, it was useful enough and worked.

Massimo Banzi at Fab 10 Barcelona
Massimo Banzi at Fab 10 Barcelona

P.N. So you gave the tool and people put the ideas, was it something like that?

M.B. Yeah. The tool was designed for a specific group of people, and then it turned out to be useful for many people. I think this is important, when you design something for a group of people, don’t try to invent something for everybody, because if you try to create something for everybody, actually nobody likes it. When you try to design something for a specific group of people. Then other groups of people could say OK, this is interesting and useful…

P.N. We can not please everybody.

M.B. No, no. I think you should design things for specific types of person, and then if it gets more universal, that’s great.

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Interview with Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms

In despite of his guru’s aura as founder of the Center for Bits and Atoms at MIT and creator of the Fab Lab model, Neil Gershenfeld proved at Fab 10 in Barcelona that he enjoys being on everyday’s work and making things turn real. During the meeting you could see him everywhere: on stage introducing the speakers, with young volunteers guiding their work, solving technical issues with sound system people, struggling with computers to connect call conferences on time…

If by chance somebody there didn’t knew who he was, by his humble and zealous attitude perhaps they wouldn’t suspect that Neil Gershenfeld is the cornerstone of Fab Lab movement. With essential books as <<When things start to think>> or <<Fab, The Coming Revolution on your Desktop>>, and his magnificent work on the Center for Bits an Atoms, he builded a completely new model of understanding how to make things. In fact, it can be said that he has triggered a whole new way of understanding productive economy, with crucial consequences that we will see in the years to come.

Some days ago, President Obama hosted the first White House Maker Faire and there he discussed with Neil Gershenfeld about the digital fabrication implications now and in the future. In the midst of frantic Fab City Symposium, Gershenfeld was so kind of granting us some time to ask him some questions about his activity and thoughts. We were really keen to have the chance of talking with him and hearing his thoughts about the influence that Fab Lab movement is gaining day by day.

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Fab 10 Barcelona – Symposium

The Fab City Symposium took place on Monday 7th July, as part of the Fab 10 Barcelona Conference. Throughout this one-day event, noted speakers shared their experiences and insights on a range of issues related to digital fabrication, focusing on the role that technology, policy and society have to achieve self-sufficient and productive cities. Circular economy was also an important issue that some speakers addressed. The event was kicked off by Antoni Vives, Deputy Major of Barcelona, and Tomas Diez, head of Fab Lab Barcelona.

We were eagerly looking forward to hearing Neil Gershenfeld, head of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, and main leader of the Fab Lab movement. Of course, we weren’t disappointed: with his clear and condensed style, he explained the essential features of Fab Labs, their impact on society and economy now and in the future, and the roadmap of Fab Lab movement for the next years. Very aware of the transforming potential of these laboratories of fabrication, he emphasized their role as a tool to change the way we understand our relation with the day-to-day life and the objects around us. From democratization of fabrication tools to machines making machines, from programming of functional materials to the emergence of the personal fabricator, his speech guided us step by step by the road Fab Labs and Digital Fabrication will go through.

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Fab 10 Barcelona – Sunday, 6th July

Sunday opened with the “3D Printing” panel talk featuring Vik Olliver and Roger Uceda from RepRap, Joan Ravantós from Stalactite 3D, Harma Woldhuis from Ultimaker, Sénamé Koffi from Woelab, and William Hoyle (moderator) from Ethical Filament Foundation.

RepRap guys explained the origin and evolution of their project, as well as the revolutionary concept lying behind it; a free 3D desktop printer that can print replicas of itself.  Showing a firm support to openness (“evolution needs open source” they said), and highlighting the importance of the community for the success of an open source project, their talk was one of the strongest points of the day. They also commented on RepRapBcn, a Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC) project aimed to spread the use of RepRap technology in Europe. We spoke to Vik Olliver, core member of RepRap project. We will publish his interview soon.

Joan Ravantós from Barcelona-based start-up Stalactite 3D introduced us their 3D printer Stalactite 102, a high definition desktop resin printer with innovative technology and design looking pretty impressive. They just concluded a successful fundraising campaign on Indiegogo. Meanwhile, Harma Woldhuis from Dutch 3D printers fabricant Ultimaker told us the story of the company. Former participants of RepRap project, their founders launched this company in 2011, having had to go through a hard road to positionate it as one of the most successful open source companies within the Maker industry.

Finally, Sénamé Koffi from Woelab, a community of African makers and technology incubator center located in the small African nation of Togo, presented Wafate, the first 3D printer made of recycled electronic waste. By using these components, Woelab gives a solution to the problem of waste disposal while making 3D printing technology more affordable. This inspiring project deserved the first prize of Global Fab Awards this year.

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Fab 10 Barcelona – Saturday, 5th July

During one week, starting from 2nd July 2014, Fab 10 Barcelona meeting gathered the international Fab Lab community. It was a week full of events focused on open technologies and social innovation. Most of the events were held at Disseny Hub Barcelona.

Atmosphere was thrilling: you could feel the excitement of people around workshop tables, the conviction of speakers at the panels and speeches, the energizing sensation that something not just new but real (and wide-ranging) was growing there. The choices were so many, and related to so many areas, that it was quite difficult to pick out just some. And everybody was there to make the best of the event: not only in terms of knowledge, but in terms of human relationship as well. If anyone has any doubt about the strength of the Fab Labs wave, Fab 10 Barcelona was the place to understand why this is a movement meant to last.

Workshop at Fab 10 Barcelona
Workshop at Fab 10 Barcelona

On 5th and 6th July, it also hosted the Fab Festival, a myriad of simultaneous events as workshops, demos, talks and exhibitions with topics like digital fabrication, emerging communities and productive cities.

Saturday started, for us, with Foodini, the 3D food printer by Barcelona-based company Natural Machines. Foodini prints all types of real food as burgers, ravioli or pizza, using fresh ingredients. During their workshop, they presented the printer as a kitchen appliance that can contribute to a healthier eating lifestyle, encouraging people to make their own food but saving them some of the most time-consuming cooking tasks. Foodini printers may also be helpful for professional use. They are on prototype stage, expecting to start shipping units in the second half of this year (2014). Its price will be around € 1,000 ($1,300).


Next we attended the workshop of e-Nable, a global community of makers, engineers, designers, parents and many others who create and design assistive hand devices for those in need. These designs are open source, and can be downloaded and 3D printed for less than $50 in materials, being available on Thingiverse. If you are interested to collaborate, you will find more info on their web site.
During the workshop, Kachina Gosselin and Jon Schull from E-Nable kindly showed us how easy is to make one of these mechanical hands. They also told us encouraging stories about members of the community, for instance a 11 years little girl who knew the project and decided to make hands for other children. They also told us about the origin of the community, which is a beautiful story deserving a separated post. The most touching moment of this workshop happened when a young couple came on stage, looking for an affordable solution for their 7 months child who has a not fully developed hand. E-Nable devices can become a viable alternative to expensive commercial prosthesis, particularly suitable for the growing child.

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