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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
RE.WORK Technology Summit was held during two days in Umweltforum (Environmental Forum). This church venue, situated near Berlin Alexanderpatz, is over a hundred years old and has been renovated with high-spec environmental technology.
Day Two opened with the Start-Up Stage. From the six participating start-up companies, all of them with interesting proposals, we highlighted the Berlin-based start-up LUUV, who presented a “bits and atoms” project looking very promising. They are aimed to produce and market the first 3D-Printed plug & play camera stabilizer for smart phones and action cameras, that allows to everybody to shoot steady footage at any time. Now, they are in a prototype stage and “looking for hardware-loving investors”.
Following the Start-Up Stage, Béatrice Marquez-Garrido presented us Future and Emerging Technologies (FET), an EU-backed funding programme whose mission is discovering new technologies with an emphasis on inter-disciplinary, collaborative and high-risk projects. During her brief presentation, she showed some innovative projects where FET is working on as the computer-controlled brain stimulation technology HIVE and the new generation of neuroprostheses Brain Bow. A call is open to submit novel ideas for radical new technologies.
“Meet the New Makers” session gathered to three noted speakers: Ronen Kadushin, Peter Troxler and Sebastien Bourdeauducq, discussing about topics as Open Design, Maker movement and Open Source.
Starting this session, the Israeli, Berlin-based industrial designer Ronen Kadushin enthusiastically talked about Open Design, to which he defined as design behaving as software. He also regarded Open Design as an opportunity for industrial design “to join to the network” and be part of “the cutting-edge society”.
RE.WORK is a far-reaching proposal for all those who are interested in how new technologies will affect our lives and business. It is organized in diverse cities during the year, bringing some of the most promising professionals and researchers on diverse high-tech areas. Last week we joyfully attended RE.WORK Technology Summit in Berlin: the easy-going nature of the city fitted so well with the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere of the gathering. It was the evidence that breakthrough ideas can be spread cleverly as well as peacefully.
First exciting proposal of the day came with Jamie Paik, contributor on École Polytechnique Fédérale de Laussanne and Harvard Microbotics Laboratory, who introduced us into the polymorphic universe of soft robotics. Robots’ softness can be extrinsic (by the way it is designed) or intrinsic (by the material chosen): they are conceived to act there where people or hard robots can’t reach, with a high level of accuracy. This research area is demonstrating itself highly useful in many different applications, as the soft robots are more adaptive, multi-tasked and re-purposed than the “harder” versions. They are ready to revolutionize many professional fields: from comfortable exoskeletons to exploratory robots, soft-robots can be an essential tool in the future. For a more graphic explanation, this video from Harvard University is really eyeopening: