ETech – Bits and Atoms

Neil Gershenfeld, from MIT on personal fabrication.
Talked about the upcoming digitalization of fabrication (of anything really). Talked about a class he started teaching called “how to build anything.” He expected 10 students, 100 showed up begging to get in. Technical and non technical students. 20 years from now we’ll make molecular assemblers.

Right now you can do a lot with $20K worth of hardware (laser cutter, electronics assembly, sign cutter, milling machine, microprogram controller, hardware workflows that allow all the machines to work together). In one project, made it possible for people right off the street to build things. Showed a video where they set up this lab in Ghana and kids went in to build things and wouldn’t leave they were having so much fun. Talked about how business models need to scale to personal fabrication, personal VC that invest on the scale of thousands rather than millions. Cool idea.

Panel discussion (with Gershenfeld, Applied Minds, Squid Labs folks)
Problem with engineering is people have tried to formalize the creation process (with models, specs, CAD). Ready, fire, aim needs to be part of the process too. For example, physical models are better than CAD models. Why? Humans can interact with 3D things better than 2D. That’s why Applied Minds starts their dev process from a prototype and then start iterating from there rather than a big planning process to finish with just a prototyp. Also mentioned was the importance of satisfying your patrons (investors, managers, etc.). You can do that by showing a constant quick stream of progress via prototypes. Keeps them happy and you working.

They also talked about setting up community fabrication labs where school kids can build anything they can imagine. Gershenfeld talked about how big orgnizations want to reduce risk. Even at MIT, the organization places lots of limitations on what people can build to reduce strain on resources. If there is no strain, imagine the innovations possible.

Back to the micro VC, every micro VC office should have a fab lab, so everyone in the local community can use it for free, and any good ideas that come out of it can get funded. Or why not have a $20K fab lab in the back of libraries as a public resource? That’s a great idea!