The Digitization of Making Stuff
Posted by: Rob Hof on March 16, 2005
Now that we’ve digitized communications and computing, says Neil Gershenfeld, who heads MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, we’re about to digitize the process of making physical things. “We’re on the edge of this digital revolution in fabrication,” he says, when individuals will be able to make fairly sophisticated products themselves using “fab labs.” At O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology Conference today, he talked about such labs—$20,000 sets of computers, laser cutters, milling machines, electronics assemblers, and chip programmers—that can make everything from a sensor to improve diesel engines in India to radio “bells” that help nomadic sheep and reindeer herders in Norway tracks their flocks. There’s more detail here.
Technology, he says, isn’t the main obstacle anymore. It’s money. There’s not just a digital divide, but a tools and instrument divide. He thinks there needs to be “micro-VC,” or small amounts of venture capital as lilttle as $10,000, to encourage entrepreneurs around the world to use these personal fabs to create interesting new products. Star Trek’s replicators may never happen, but this sure is an interesting start.