The Fab Lab at SETC is the first fab lab initiated by the educational outreach component of MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA) in December 2003. The CBA also does research into digital fabrication and computation. A Fab Lab is a technical prototyping platform for innovation and invention, providing stimulus for local entrepreneurship; a platform for learning and innovation: a place to play, to create, to learn, to mentor, to invent. Currently fab labs exist in 100 countries and 24 time zones and provide a means of connecting to a global community of learners, educators, technologists, researchers, makers and innovators- -a knowledge sharing network using common tools and processes that is building a global network. A distributed laboratory for research, invention and potentially the decentralization of global manufacturing.
A Fab Lab, composed of off-the-shelf, industrial-grade fabrication and electronics tools, wrapped in open source software and programs many of which were written by researchers at MIT’s Center for Bits & Atoms among others. Conventionally Fab Labs include a laser cutter for 2D and some 3D structures, a sign cutter that plots on copper or acrylic sheets to make antennas and flex circuits, a high-resolution CNC milling machine that makes circuit boards and precision parts, 3D printers, and a suite of electronic components and programming tools for low-cost, high-speed microcontrollers for on-site rapid circuit prototyping. Originally designed for communities as prototyping platforms for local entrepreneurship, Fab Labs are increasingly being adopted by schools as platforms for project-based, hands-on STEM education. Users learn by designing and creating objects of personal interest or import. Empowered by the experience of making something themselves, they both learn and mentor each other, gaining deep knowledge about the machines, the materials, the design process, and the engineering that goes into invention and innovation. In educational settings, rather than relying on a fixed curriculum, learning happens in an authentic, engaging, personal context, one in which students go through a cycle of imagination, design, prototyping, reflection, and iteration as they find solutions to challenges or bring their ideas to life. (http://www.fabfoundation.org)