The Digitization of Making Stuff

Posted by: Rob Hof on March 16, 2005

neil (26k image)

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.

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Reader Comments

Christina Ray

September 17, 2006 09:08 PM

To Whom It May Concern- Just got back from Dwell on Design and am very interested in opening a Digital Fabrication Lab for kids in San Diego. I am a designer. How do I go about this? Is there any funding available? I think it is amazing and want to get involved. Please Respond, Christina My office number is (619) 669-6669

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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