Google Fiber for Maui – Digital Fabrication, Fab Lab, Physical Computing, Hackerspaces

Here is some preliminary prose I wrote for the Google Fiber For Maui initiative. It could also be considered the seeds of a business plan for Maui Makers.

The benefits of broadband are not limited to online experiences. Digital fabrication and physical computing are two areas that draw on internet connections, especially when combined with social interaction and education.

Digital Fabrication combines computing and manufacturing technologies to create physical objects directly from computer models. Tools include laser /plasma/water cutters, CNC (Computer Numeric Controlled) mills/lathes, 3D Printers (aka Rapid Prototypers), and electronics workstations.

Physical Computing refers to the use of sensors and actuators with micro-controllers to interact with the physical world, and especially people. It is often used as a way to teach computing technologies to non-engineers such as artists, architects, and designers.

Fab Labs are small scale, high tech workshops providing the basic digital fabrication tools to “make almost anything” (furniture, electronics, replacement parts, etc). While Fab Labs began at MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, they have expanded to over 40 locations in over 16 countries. MIT is now developing the Fab Academy program to provide instruction and supervision to Fab Labs around the world, using video collaboration and lectures from global faculty. Combining local facilities with remote instructors creates distributed rather than distance education.

Yet Fab Labs are a large scale, academic enterprise, requiring tens of thousands of dollars of capital investment, often requiring support of an established college. Hackerspaces are an alternative form of collaboration and education in digital fabrication and computing arising from a community of interested people – sometimes known as Makers. There are hundreds of such spaces around the world. They meet in local spaces, sharing ideas, projects, tools, and often collaborate with other spaces.

Makers at hackerspaces, fab labs and independently use the net to collaborate and share. Sites such as Thingiverse, Instructables, WonderHowTo, VideoJug provide archives of instructional videos and downloadable designs. Make Magazine has its web with very active blog and a growing list of local Maker Faires, where people come together to share their creations.

A community connected with broadband fiber, and a center for digital fabrication could provide an official Fab Academy, as well as an active contributing member of the international Hackerspace and Maker communities.

A Maui based, broadband supported, fab center would also provide an excellent host for workshops and conferences. Maui already is a prime destination for vacations and conferences, with excellent resources such as hotels, excursions, family activities, etc.


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