Belfast Telegraph

'Fab labs' open here with £200k injection

By Clare Weir

The first ever 'fab labs' in the UK - workshops which enable anyone to design and manufacture their own products - are being made available in Northern Ireland.

Described as a real-life 'replicator', as seen on sci-fi show Star Trek, the Fab Lab is a fully kitted- out digital design and fabrication facility equipped with cutters and printers, designed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Professor Neil Gershenfeld.

The professor, a well-known author and public speaker is the director of MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms.

The laboratory is capable of creating everything from molecular quantum computers to virtuosic musical instruments, and technology from the lab has been seen and used in settings including New York's Museum of Modern Art and rural Indian villages, the White House and Las Vegas.

The project has been supported under the EU's PEACE III Programme and is being delivered by the Ashton Community Trust and the Nerve Centre in Derry in an investment worth up to £200,000.

The rooms, which are staffed by two people, can be used by anyone, whether they be schoolchildren or budding entrepreneurs.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Professor Gershenfeld said that the labs are something akin to the birth of digital computing, but instead for fabrication.

"The labs are filled with software, computers, machinery, tools, circuits and design programmes, which anyone can use, rich, poor, professional, and otherwise," he said.

"We don't pick where they go, we are asked by communities who want them," said Prof Gershenfeld

"This is an empowering tool that has been used in the past in warzones, it's a development and learning tool which allows people to achieve things. People interested in technology used to have to go far from home to work in the sphere - now they can do it in their community.

"With the Fab Lab in Barcelona, where youth unemployment is 50%, they have built an entire solar house.

"The lab in Afghanistan has developed antennaes to deliver internet across cities. In Norway they make herding instruments, in the Amsterdam lab they built a football table.

"Someone can come here, develop and produce a product, but in instead of mass producing product and potentially making a huge loss, the inventor can produce it on demand locally."