This is the VOA Special English Development Report.
Imagine a world without manufacturers. Or at least not as we now think of
them. Instead, we as individuals control the technology to design and make most
anything we want.
That world exists now in the mind of Neil Gershenfeld. Professor Gershenfeld
is a computer scientist and physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology. He directs the Center for Bits and Atoms at M.I.T.
The center is exploring the relationship between computer science and
physical science. The work is receiving financial support from the National
Neil Gershenfeld wants to help developing countries create technological
tools to solve their own problems. He says this is one way to bring the results
of the digital revolution to the developing world.
And many of those
solutions might come out of personal fabrication laboratories -- or "FabLabs."
So far the center has set up about fifteen of these laboratories around the
Each FabLab comes equipped with about 20,000 dollars' worth of electronics,
design tools and computers. The labs are all similar but they are put to use in
very different ways.
In Costa Rica, for example, students used a FabLab to develop new educational
technologies. They also developed environmental sensing systems for farmers.
In Pabal, India, villagers used a FabLab to improve the design process for
diesel engines that are used for many purposes in the community. That was one of
their first projects. A FabLab in Takoradi, Ghana, is developing machines
powered by the sun for cooking and other uses.
Developing countries are not the only ones with FabLabs. In Norway, farmers
used one to design what they call "sheep radios." They wanted a radio frequency
identification system to be able to follow a sheep from birth to market.
People have also used FabLabs to test new designs for business ideas.
Sherry Lassiter works at the Center for Bits and Atoms at M.I.T. She says
three laboratories recently opened in South Africa.
The hope is that in the future, FabLabs will become economically
self-supporting. They might even be able to design new versions of themselves to
keep up with demand.
In fact, Professor Gershenfeld imagines a time when personal fabrication
laboratories are truly personal -- a FabLab in every home.
And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss.
For a link to the Center for Bits and Atoms at M.I.T., go to www.unsv.com. I'm