Fab11 conference at MIT, Boston


Machines that make machines, robots, brain wave controlled electronics, these were all the technologies we were able to witness during the trip to Boston and Fab 11. Being the home to the prestigious MIT, Harvard and a bunch of other schools, the area bolsters innovation and creativity. We were able to get a taste of all the latest and greatest technologies during our visit. Here, I will be summarising some of the activities that we were a part of.
Fab11 (http://www.fab11.org/) is the 11th international conference that called together all the prominent stake holders of the various Fab Labs from around the world. The network claims of having around 500 labs globally, and India is stated to have 9 of them (check them out here: http://diyhacking.com/makerspaces/). This conference is mainly to showcase the work that the various labs have been doing and also to keep everyone updated of the latest technological trends. It was hosted from Aug 3-9 2015 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston.
I would love to thank Jayasankar Prasad, Rajesh Nair, Matt Carney, Sijo Kuruvilla George, Dr.Ritesh Malik, Anna Waldman Brown, Dr.Sanjeev S and Dr.Usha Rani for the support and guidance. Moreover, since I was able to volunteer and help out in setting for the event, they were generous enough to give me free entry for the conference.
An index of the events:

  • Aug 3- Monday: Launch, workshops and discussions.
  • Aug 4- Tuesday: Workshops and discussions.
  • Aug 5- Wednesday: Workshops and discussions.
  • Aug 6- Thursday: How to Make (almost) anything symposium.
  • Aug 7- Friday: Fab policies and graduation ceremony.
  • Aug 8,9- Sat and Sun: Boston Fab fest and Fab cities program.
  • Other visits: MIT Media Lab, Artisan’s Asylum & Harvard

Day 1 – Monday

Neil Gershenfeld

The initial day started off with a fun way of exercising called: “Fabercise”, which is actually a custom that has been followed since one of the initial Fab conferences dated to a couple of years back. This was then quickly followed up by Neil where he talked about the short history of all the Fab conferences that occurred till date. Check out the full video showing the initial keynote and the introduction to the conference:

Discussion – Robotics group 

Soon after the initial session, it was followed by a highly interesting conversation on robotics from the premier Robotics experts in the world. The experts who were a part of the same are listed below:

  • Russ Tedrake: Director, Center for Robotics, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab
  • Sangbae Kim: MIT Biomimetic Robotics Lab
  • Mick Mountz: Founder, Kiva Systems
  • Gill Pratt: Program Manager, DARPA Robotics Challenge, DARPA Defence Sciences
  • Marc Raibert: Founder, Boston Dynamics
  • Radhika Nagpal: Self-organizing Systems Research and Robotics Group, Harvard University

Making robots fab11

Here, the group of experts discussed on their individual works in their field and about how robotic technologies will be a major part of the future. And also on the infamous topic of whether or not robots and AI will take over the world ;) Watch the full video of the discussion here:

Workshop – Unlimited Z 3D printing

This was one of the workshops that I was a part of, it was hosted by Rooie Joris and supported by Ultimaker. In this workshop we were able to hack an Ultimaker printer by hooking it up to an elongated Z axis that made really big prints. A couple of pictures from the workshop:

Unlimited z printing fab11Unlimited z printing fab11

And check this video to understand what I am talking about:

For more info: http://www.rooiejoris.nl/z-unlimited/

Day 2 – Tuesday 

This day too started off with a wonderful “Fabercise” which lead on to important news and notes for the day. The video of which you can check out here:

Discussion – Movie making & technology

This day also hosted a really interesting discussion with prominent movie makers in the world on how they leverage technology to tell stories. The panel includes pros who have made Avatar, Mission Impossible and much more. Check out the panelists:

  • Will Staples: Screenwriter; Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and Call of Duty video games
  • Paul Debevec: Chief Visual Officer, USC Institute for Creative Technologies
  • Janet and Jerry Zucker: Zucker Productions; Science and Entertainment Exchange
  • Alex McDowell: Creative Director, 5D GlobalStudio at Wondros; Professor of Practice, University of Southern California
  • Sebastian Sylwan: Former Chief Technology Officer, Weta Digital
  • Bran Ferren: Co-Founder & Chief Creative Officer, Applied Minds

making movies fab11

Here, they discuss on how cutting edge cinematic technology is being developed through digital fabrication and other sciences. If you are a fan of sci-fi movies then dont miss to watch this highly interesting discussion. Watch the full video of the discussion here:

Workshop – 5 axis CNC machining

This was one of the workshops I was a part of, here we were able to get an insight on how we can do 5 axis CNC machining of parts. The highly informative session was taken by Matt Carney, one of the experts from the MIT’s Centre of Bits and Atoms.To get a gist of the session, you can check out this video from Matt:

Workshop – DIY wire cutter

Here, the team got together to build and operate a DIY wire cutter. It basically uses a heated wire to cut through foam and create intricate shapes. These could then be used for moulding and casting. You can check out the online version of the tutorial here: http://www.8linx.com/cnc/cnc.htm

Some of the other workshops were that for making a DIY EDM cutter based on electro discharge machining, you can check that out here: http://fab.cba.mit.edu/classes/S62.12/people/peters.ben/mass62-final-notes.html

Later in the evening there was also a special tribute to Mel King (Professor at MIT), the instigator of the first FabLab in Boston and who started the strong community who believed in “Team work makes the Dream work”.

Mel King fab11

Day 3 – Wednesday

The third day also followed the same structure, it started off with an interesting Fabercise with the team from Peru. This then led on to important announcements from companies like Saint Gobain, Chevron, etc. Check out the full video here:

Discussion – Synthetic biology

This day then quickly led on to a discussion on DIY Biology and about Making Life. Check out the expert panelists who were part of this discussion here:

  • George Church: Robert Winthrop Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School
  • Peng Yin: Molecular Systems Lab, Harvard Medical School
  • Joseph Jacobson: Molecular Machines Group, MIT; Co-founder, Gen9
  • Pamela A. Silver: Ph.D.Professor of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical Schoolsynthetic biology fab11

An interesting discussion that gives you an insight into the world of Making Life and DIY Biology. Watch these experts talk about how biology can be integrated with technology and also the answer to the big question: “Can we make dinosaurs just like in Jurassic Park!?”. Watch the full discussion here:

The day also hosted another interesting discussion about how corporations are taking part in the Maker movement across the globe. Watch the discussion here:

Workshop – Machines that make machines

This was also one of the workshops I had taken part in, this was hosted by Nadya Peek from MIT’s Centre for Bits and Atoms. The session pragmatically talked about how machines can fabricate other machines. They are basically 3 or multiple axis based modular systems that talk to each other and use G code to implement certain actions. They can be equipped with different kinds of end affectors like: rotary tools (for CNC), extruder head (for 3D printing), laser modules (for laser cutting), etc. You can learn more about this interesting session here: http://mtm.cba.mit.edu/machines/science/

Day 4 – Thursday

This event was hosted at the Symphony hall and was called: “How to Make (Almost) anything symposium”
From the CEO of Little Bits (Ayah Bdeir) to the founders of Instructables (Saul Griffith), Google X (Rich Devaul), project ARA (Ara Knaian), Form labs (Max Lobovsky) and many more, the event saw all these prominent personalities. The session was divided into different categories, they are:

  1. How to make Design
    This initial discussion having prominent design experts from around the globe talked on about the various challenges and methodologies of designing.make design fab11
  2. How to make Business
    This talked about how you can leverage a Fab Lab or a product to create revenue streams and a sustainable model.make business fab11
  3. How to make Research
    The focus of this session was how next generation R & D projects can be bolstered through the network of Fab Labs and showcased some of the premier projects from MIT and other institutions.make research fab11
  4. How to make Tools
    This session talked about how new generation tools should be made while emphasising on its modular structure that allows ubiquity.make tools fab11

You can also check out the full video of the symposium on the above three topics here:

Day 5 – Friday

This day too started off with an interesting Fabercise and which was followed by discussions on Fab modules (a ubiquitous tool for interfacing designs with all the machines in a lab). Fab economy was also another topic that was part of the day, it was how various revenue models can be explored for Fab Labs as well as a job platform for people who are a part of the network. Check out the video for the various discussions here:

Discussion – Making policies for the Maker movement

Friday also hosted a impactful session on Making policies in the Government. The experts who were part of this were:

  • Megan Smith: United States Chief Technology Officer
  • Rep. Bill Foster: Congressman (Il-11); Fermilab; Electronic Theatre Controls
  • Rush Holt: CEO, American Association for the Advancement of Science; Executive Publisher, Science
    Family of Journals

The discussion grazed over how it is difficult for organisations to find technically skilled people as employees, even by offering 100,000$ salaries. Watch the discussion here:

Fab Academy graduation

Later in the day, a graduation ceremony also took place for the students who were part of the Fab academy. The certificates were handed off to them and their projects were also shared with the crowd. A video of the ceremony:

This day was then concluded with a cool party at the JFK Library in Boston where people from the different Fab Labs all over the globe networked.

Day 6 – Saturday

This day was hosted over at the Reggie Lewis Athletic Center, it saw a number of project exhibitions from various Fab Labs around the world. There were a multitude of DIY electronics and robotics kits, next generation digital fabrication machines, and other interesting workshops.

fab fest boston fab11

Fab cities program
Another interesting part of the day was the Fab cities program, where prominent civic leaders from around the world pledged to make their cities self sustainable in 40 years. From India, Kerala was also a part of the program and was represented by Mr.Jayasankar Prasad, CEO of the Kerala Startup Mission. Kerala had recently setup two Fab Labs in the state at Kochi and Trivandrum in the hope of promoting the Maker culture and harbouring innovation.

fab cities fab11

And finally, the next Fab conference “Fab12” will be hosted at Shenzhen, in the heart of the industrial area. Don’t miss your opportunity to get there :)

Day 7 – Sunday

This day also hosted the Boston Fab fest, showcasing cool projects from all over the globe.

Other Visits

MIT Media Lab
As a part of the trip, we were also able to check out the MIT Media Lab and the various research groups there. The insights we were able to gain from this is remarkable. The Lab itself hosts immeasurable amounts of resources that help you make anything from nano scale to magnanimous sized objects and even has a bio based lab. The interesting fact was also how free and unrestricted the entry was for the lab, which is just to make sure that the barrier to entry for talented people is minimal.mit media lab fab11
The kind of projects that are being developed there is also truly amazing. The lab focuses on combining arts, music, design and various other fields together with science, and hence the name Media Lab! They always emphasise on the first of its kind and futuristic technologies instead of re inventing the wheel, which itself bolsters innovation. Some of the kickass projects can be seen here in the pages of the various research groups:

  1. Mediated matter: http://matter.media.mit.edu/
  2. Object based media: http://obm.media.mit.edu/
  3. Fluid interfaces group: http://fluid.media.mit.edu/
  4. Responsive environments group: http://resenv.media.mit.edu/
  5. Personal robots group: http://robotic.media.mit.edu/

These projects and the open culture they have in the labs are key to the innovation there, which is also something that we can try to adopt in our engineering colleges as well. And the interesting part is that each of these research groups are funded by corporates, which helps them in gaining a lot of resources and even stipends for the students. One of the interesting project videos from the Mediated Matter group by Neri Oxman:

Harvard and Artisan’s Asylum

Next, we also went to Harvard to see some of their historic buildings and landmarks. Their history is very rich and boasts of prolific number of accomplishments as well.

Another interesting visit was to the Artisan’s Asylum in Somerville (https://artisansasylum.com/) which is one of the biggest Maker Spaces in the world. We were able to witness some of the interesting projects that was being developed at the time for the Burning Man event (http://burningman.org/). Some pictures:

artisan's asylum

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  • Nidhiya

    Amazing !!!!

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