Do it Yourself, Digitally: Why the power of digital design is not so out of reach
by Victoria Molinar
Too often, people who describe themselves as artistic will say they’re intimidated by math and science while many mathematicians and scientists will say they’re not artistically or creatively inclined. This is a common misjudgment that non-profit proprietors Gustavo Arriaga and Cathy Chen want to debunk through El Paso’s very first Fabrication Laboratory.
“I’ve always been a really firm believer that the divide between the sciences and humanities is a really problematic one and that people should have a more comprehensive and interdisciplinary education in order to make them really well rounded and prepared for the future in terms of the job market,” said Chen at the grand opening of the laboratory on March 1. “And also just to become more awesome people and make the world a more fun place to live in.”
Different from the usual maker and hacker spaces that cater to a collegiate crowd, Chen and Arriaga said their non-profit will provide a more user-friendly space to people of all ages with various interests, from novice entrepreneurs who want to sell unique trinkets on Etsy to college and medical school students who need to design models and apparatuses for their research projects. Their goal is to show artists, scientists, engineers and mathematicians that they can find commonality in digital design regardless of educational background.
Essential to running a Fab Lab are the machines used to create one’s designs. El Paso’s Fab Lab has a Kossel Mini robot 3D printer, a Shapeoko precision mill, a 45W Full Spectrum laser cutter, a Silhouette Portrait paper cutter and a blackFoot 4-foot-by-8-foot CNC router (a computer operated cutting machine). The CNC router has been used to make all sorts of provisions, from emergency shelters to chicken coops for urban farming.
The concept of a Fab Lab started at MIT through a partnership between the Center for Bits and Atoms and the Grassroots Invention Group with a popular class called “How to Make (Almost) Anything.” With people of all backgrounds learning how to design their own 3D models, circuit boards and different gadgets, non-profit Fab Labs started to emerge all over the world, encouraging many financially underserved and developing communities to think outside their comfort zones and imagine the inventive possibilities.
“When you think about it, the democratization of technology and design is not really that surprising,” said Chen. “The ultimate goal is to make things more affordable for people so that they can make things themselves without having to pay the surplus cost that becomes a profit for big companies.”
Today, there are over 200 Fab Labs around the world, all serving the purpose of teaching communities that a professional background in engineering and design is not required in order to create prototypes, gizmos or for-the-fun-of-it toys.
Fab Lab will host workshops for both children and adults on subjects such as how to design and print a 3D object, make molds for something as simple as chocolate confections, and create circuit boards.
“We’re really excited to see what people come up with,” said Arriaga. “Especially the kids. If you give them access to technology and new ways to make things, they have the best ideas and come up with all kinds of crazy stuff.”
Photographs courtesy of Fab Lab