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In emancipation from the traditional circuits of manufacturing and trade, fablabs and techshops are spreading around the world their free and open source techniques to build Internetready machines, the most famous being the 3D printer. This is where artists, DIY coders, hackers, engineers and neophytes learn and share knowledge. In October 2010, the first Plastic Hacker Space Fest took place in Vitry-Sur-Seine, near Paris.
The first Plastic Hacker Space Fest, organised by /tmp/lab was held in late October 2010 in an old unused indus-trial building of Vitry-sur-Seine, close to the railways. Creative workshops had attracted do-it-yourselfers and artists who wanted to build a personal 3D printer. /tmp/lab is the first “hackerspace” in the Paris area. Created in 2007 and managed by hackers in the original sense of the term, i.e. enthusiasts who use technologies in a creative way. Vitry is not the only city near Paris where a hackerspace has been equipped with these new machines which, like their paper equivalent, are run through a computer in order “to print” a wide range of objects, machine parts, sex toys and even Nutella portraits of the Che on sliced bread. They are all in favour of autonomy, as well as experimenting with new designing and manufacturing models, far from the mass produced industrial goods.
In Vitry, the artist Cécile Babiole and the designer Sigolène Valax came to build a RepRap, a popular 3D printer, to carry out their own artistic projects. Cécile Babiole is preparing a series of Miniatures for the Trans(E) Festival at the Mulhouse Filature in March 2011. Using RepRap, she is printing small 3D objects akin to lucky charms or microscopic animals. She scans the resulting objects and then replicates them for several “generations”. To digitize my miniatures in 3D, I intend to use a low tech method, with a fixed camera and a container filled with an opaque liquid (milk), she explains with tools in her hand whilst assembling the first parts of her RepRap. The whiteness of milk enables you to isolate and cut out the object in order to take measurements. With her own RepRap, Sigolène Valax plans to create objects offering another relation to time, which she calls an ecosophic prospect. Keen on slow design she works on objects meant to be worn, that she carefully equips with numerous electronic interfaces using RFID. These body prostheses will be synchronized with a connected object in charge of interpreting data about the Earth, time, etc, and to turn them into colours, sounds and vibrations. Further along, Christophe André, who introduces himself as a militant designer, defends his approach of a free design to counteract upcoming obsolescence and to turn the consumer into a “prosumer” (professional - consumer). He openly shares the various stages of development of an object (design, production and optimization).
Laser and vinyl cutting machines, 3D printers
/tmp/lab is part of the latest manufacturinglaboratories trend such as “fablabs”, an English portmanteau word born in Neil Gershenfeld’s Center for Bits and Atoms at the prestigious Massachusets Institute of Technology (MIT), in the United States. Thanks to computer-run machines, a fablab allows the quick and personalised manufacture, of a wide range of objects, as single items or in small amounts, specifically made for the end-user. Among these tools one can notably find laser and vinyl cutting machines, precision milling machines, tools for rapid prototyping such as 3D printers… Since 2005 the MIT has spread its concept across many countries and even devised a fablab charter, which focuses on sharing knowledge. Some fifty fablabs have been listed in the world by the MIT and other structures revolve around them, such as “techshops”, where the tools and equipment can be used by members. Opened to all, from engineers to do-it-yourselfers, artists and designers, more and more fablabs, hackerspaces and techshops, essentially dedicated to personal digital manufacturing, are being set up from Afghanistan to Norway, via Ghana. They can either be built from scratch by hackers or DIY coders, or linked to existing structures such as art schools and centres. They can also travel to reach current and potential users. France’s first fablab was launched in August 2010 in Toulouse by the Artilect platform. Others are on their way. The most emblematic fablab tool is the 3D printer which has become affordable in the last few years. After a few clicks, a 3D digital model has become tangible and can be held in one’s hand, shifting from a file to an object. Under the pressure of various communities (academia, DIY, free open source software, start-ups, etc), many prototypes have been developed over the years to design low cost printers, easy to manufacture and use. Expensive and quick prototyping devices, only used by the specialized staff of a company have been challenged by similar tools, obviously less sophisticated and accurate but easy, quick and cheap to build (a few hundred Euros). At the Plastic Hacker Space Festival, for instance, the range of costs for the machines started at 400 euros for the Mini-Mendel, the last generation of the RepRap project, and peaked at 850 euros for the basic MakerBot kit from CNC, created by New York hackers. These printers are neither designed to offer the same technique nor the same philosophy. MakerBot focuses on setting up a factory in an office whereas the idea of self-replication and evolution (The machines created so far have been named Darwin and Mendel) are at the core of the RepRap project. You can thus build a new printer from your existing one. The data needed to produce a RepRap printer is free (the project also includes a software suite under Copyleft license), and the project aims at promoting 3D file sharing with free and open specifications to match individual needs in order to manufacture tools, parts to repair broken down industrial objects and so on… The RepRap initiator, Adrian Bowyer, professor at the University of Bath in the United Kingdom, has been restlessly promoting his selfreplicating machine since its launch in 2005. France now also has its own replicating machine project, Usinette, in Paris, which has also been used in workshops in Bourges or Nantes. Usinette is close to RepRap but also open to other forms of digital manufacturing. The project subtitled new factories has been conceived as a support platform for producing machines and attending the needs of their evolution, as well as a place for sharing knowledge and transdisciplinarity.
Free and open specifications
The Maglab project, a collaboration between designers of the Studio Lo and the Ars Longa gallery in Paris, proposes an alternative approach to the interface between designers and users/customers, thanks to their Fab-Bot, a portable milling machine controlled by a computer. The gallery is filled with objects made out of wood, created by designers using the milling machine (and available for sale in December). The gallery as also been hosting performances on the occasion of the last Nuit Blanche (French art night) and other ones such as Flavien Théry making glasses frames out of vinyl records. The free material needed to build machines in fablabs and hackerspaces is also made by users through a co-operation network (you can build your machine thanks to an existing one which will make its parts), but they also come in kits to build yourself (MakerBot).
On the Internet such resources multiply. One absolute hub in this field is the Hackable Devices website which distributes a fair amount of hardware hacker projects, as playful as they are activists. An economy is growing around free material. The possibility of assembling and customising your very own objects is attracting thousands of people throughout the world, even if for now the turnover of the Paris-based company is still quite low (80.000 euros). Personal digital manufacturing opens up many prospects, from the set up of a man-sized local trade, distributed according to actual needs, making it possible to reconcile production, environment and creativity, to relate to technology insofar as it potentially Beserves us. It is not surprising that in fablabs… artists and designers once dedicated to the Internet are now fond of this in Taipei with Chinese practice. Likewise, the more pragmastudents wearing the tic uses which are expanding in Southern countries bring an air of Utopia around fablabs, hackerspaces and other places of the kind.
(PUBLISHED IN MCD SPECIAL ISSUE #06, INTERNET OF THINGS)
Published in the Digitalarti Mag #6.
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