Mar.23, 2013

Last week US Congressman Bill Foster introduced the National Fab Lab Network Act of 2013 to promote advanced manufacturing in the U.S. and invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators.

According to its press release, "the goal of the network will be to establish at least one Fab Lab for every 700,000 people, giving students throughout the country access to the tools and skills needed to bring their ideas to life. The legislation does not provide funding to the network, but seeks to provide the project with the recognition needed to grow and establish new centers throughout the country."

Surprisingly the number is just "one Fab Lab for every 700,000 people". There are more than 315 million people in U.S., so that would be around 450 Fablabs in the whole country. "We have a great tradition of innovation in manufacturing in America. With a national network of Fab Labs we can empower and inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs and innovators," said Foster. "These labs help students build the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills they need to succeed in today's global economy."

End of 2011 Shanghai Government Technology committee issued a call for a proposal to build 100 community hackerspaces ("Innovation House") with government funding for equipment. The community in each resident area will manage the space and pay for the material. Each space will be at least 100 square meters, open 200 days a year, equipped with wood lathes, metal lathes, saws and drill grinding combined machine, milling machine and other tools.

It shows how some governments have realized the importance of non-academic sectors to provide places and tools for improving people's skills in engineering and manufacturing. There are 23 million people in Shanghai, so it is around one hackerspace for every 230,000 people. By comparison with one Fab Lab for 700,000 people in the U.S., Shanghai is probably a more DIY-friendly city. The concept is the same that is to provide the facilities where people with an idea could go and make it a reality.

How are these innovation houses now? On March 14, 2013 the first four innovation houses are opened in Putuo, Xuhui, BaoShan and Yangxing district in Shanghai, equipped with various equipment and tools, and guided by instructors and volunteers.

The photos below show the innovative house in Putuo district. The 100 square meters space is divided into four area. "hands-on area" is for children between 3-8 years old where they can make a variety of small science experiments; "Basic zone" is for beginner that they could experience all small machines and tools; "Advanced area" is for citizen who have some hands-on experience and knowledge of design and engineering. It is furnished with various types of machines, including cutting, grinding, milling, drilling machines for metal, wood and plexiglass. More advanced users, inventors and designers can go to "Development Zone". It is free to use all machines in the room, and if you want to bring your creation to home you can just pay 3~5 RMB (less than 1 dollar) for part of the material cost.

Each innovation house has its own highlights, such as robotic, free energy and environment protection, creativity in life etc. Currently Shanghai government has approved another 30 innovation houses to be set up in a few districts, and in five years the total amount of innovation house will reach to 100.

(Different lamps created by makers in innovation house in Putuo district | Photos: Ma Dan)

Posted in FabLab


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