Thoughts on Fablabs

I worked in a Fablab and it was one of the most meaningful experiences in my life, some things worked, some others didn’t, but being in a hackerspace definitely changed my perspective on technology.

What is a FabLab?

For those who don’t know, this is the “What is a blockchain?” kind of question in the FabLab world.


Fab Lab is the educational outreach component of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), an extension of its research into digital fabrication and computation. A Fab Lab is a technical prototyping platform for innovation and invention, providing stimulus for local entrepreneurship. A Fab Lab is also a platform for learning and innovation: a place to play, to create, to learn, to mentor, to invent. To be a Fab Lab means connecting to a global community of learners, educators, technologists, researchers, makers and innovators- -a knowledge sharing network that spans 30 countries and 24 time zones. Because all Fab Labs share common tools and processes, the program is building a global network, a distributed laboratory for research and invention.

So, in other words, Fablabs are an open space for creativity. They encourage the innovation and invention in local areas by providing equipment and knowledge (among other things) to empower ideas and, most importantly, people in their path towards creating new things without restrictions.

Excuse me, isn’t that a Hackerspace or Makerspace?

No, FabLabs are international prototyping platforms for local entrepreneurship with a series of requirements to be fullfilled to become an official Fablab. These requirements ensure the FabLab have enough space, machinery and tooling to support the projects coming in. Makerspaces doesn’t have a regulation because they don’t need one, both share the Maker spirit but their specific approach is very different.

The main differentiation between a FabLab and a Makerspace is the focus of the organization. FabLabs are a more academic form of a Makerspace and are bounded to the Fab Foundation approval.

Also, FabLabs can be found almost anywhere around the world as a unified concept. Many of them are located inside schools, research centers and/or universities, many others are located in open spaces as open laboratories, private laboratories and/or entrepreneur centers.

So what’s the big deal?

FabLabs’ main focus is digital fabrication, therefore they provide a variety of tools and services, such as:

This is in general terms, FabLabs can specialize on a specific subject so don’t be surprised if you find a FabLab with more specialized tools for Electronics, Robotics, 3D Printing, Metals or Wood. It’s up to each FabLab specialize on a specific matter.

My experience

First of all, I worked in FabLab Impact, downtown Mexico City as a System Administrator. When I first visited the lab, it was an astonishing experience. To be honest, visiting any Makerspace, for me, is like a dream come true.

You can feel it in the air, there’s innovation happening in those places.

The thing about tech is that nobody knows what’s going on in the tech scene world. When you visit a Makerspace (or a Fablab, for those matters), you can perfectly say: “Our educational system is broken”. And you’re right, our formation in tech stuff is based on a scholar system that doesn’t value creativity, we’re encouraged to learn by memorizing and not by doing. It hits hard. Mostly because tech isn’t something so stable and established as many other areas; it’s constantly changing, evolving, challenging our capability to keep up with the new tendencies, models and practices and it’s really stupid to assume that learning some specific one will get you any kind of guarantee to be always relevant.

And that’s the problem, we keep knowledge on a Long Term Support kind of release instead of a Rolling Release model (for those who aren’t such nerds: versioning knowledge instead of a mutable, plastic and upgradeable one) , we lie to the newcomers and tell them to learn something whilst the reality is that stuff nowadays become obsolete in a couple of years, months or even days! (yes I’m talking about you, JavaScript).

This is what I learned from the FabLab I was working at, that you need to get your hands dirty and write some code, model, 3D-print, laser-cut, cnc-machine something, because times are weird and the most important stuff right now won’t be taught in universities for a couple of years, and when it’s finally integrated it may be obsolete.

As I said when I began this post: Working on a FabLab changed my perspective on technology and here’s why: being in a FabLab enabled me to meet a lot of visual artists, designers, engineers, creators, influencers, entrepreneurs, programmers, makers and a bunch of random people, and they all shared one distinctive thing: They all learned something new every single day, and they all contributed to and learned from the community.

Oh boy, the community. The most powerful tool we’ve ever created and yet the most undervalued one. - Me, circa this morning, probably

FabLabs and Makerspaces are homes to the communities, they enable a physical space for them to gather around to discuss, teach and learn specific themes. These spaces value the community, not just because they’re built around the community, but because it’s the most efficient, didactic and fun way to learn and teach the stuff the Lab was made for but also unrelated stuff.

In conclusion, the breakthrough is: We all need to learn how to learn and Makerspaces (and FabLabs) are enabling us with the physical spaces for spreading this community-driven knowledge in a way it’s available at everyone’s hands.

Wrap-up amigo, we’re bored!

So, yes. FabLabs (and Makerspaces) are incredible places for people to go around and learn something new, fabricate and/or prototype an idea, but also they’re the liver of the community (you and I, my friend, are the heart of the community :D).

If you’ve never been to a Makerspace, you totally should go and visit one! There’s probably one near you. (If not, how about opening your own Makerspace?)

And, if you value knowledge as much as I do, you must support your local communities. This can be done by attending meetups, help the organizers, find sponsors (for pizza and beer mostly), giving a talk, donating or, why not? Start your own community of a certain topic!

For comments and feedback, you can find me on Twitter as: @humbertowoody.