Tag Archives: network

One hundred thousand garages: the distributed future of fabrication?

3D printer in actionAs Cory Doctorow’s new novel Makers is being serialised over at Tor.com, reality seems to be doing its best to catch up with the ideas he’s based it upon.

Fabbaloo points us to the 100kGarages.com project, a collaboration between citizen-fabbing startup Ponoko and the CNC router company ShopBot that aims to distribute the actual printing-out of people’s designs to a network of small “garages” – small local shops with the necessary hardware to handle the designs as developed by customers at Ponoko. [image by CabFabLab]

These new technologies make practical and possible doing more of our production and manufacturing in small distributed facilities, as small as our garages, and close to where the product is needed. Most importantly our new methods for collaboration and sharing means that we don’t have to do it all by ourselves … that designers with creative ideas but without the capability to see their designs become real can work with fabricators that might not have the design skills that they need but do have the equipment and the skills and orientation that’s needed to turn ideas into reality … that those who just want to get stuff made or get their ideas realized can work with the Makers/designers who can help them create the plans and the local fabricators who fulfill them.


To get this started ShopBot Tools, Makers of popular tools for digital fabrication and Ponoko, who are reinventing how goods are designed, made and distributed, are teaming-up to create a network of workshops and designers, with resources and infrastructure to help facilitate “rolling up our sleeves and getting to work.” Using grass roots enterprise and ingenuity this community can help get us back in action, whether it’s to modernize school buildings and infrastructure, develop energy-saving alternatives, or simply produce great new products for our homes and businesses.

There are thousands of ShopBot digital-fabrication (CNC) tools in garages and small shops across the country, ready to locally fabricate the components needed to address our energy and environmental challenges and to locally produce items needed to enhance daily living, work, and business. Ponoko’s web methodologies offer people who want to get things made an environment that integrates designers and inventors with ShopBot fabricators. Multiple paths for getting from idea to object, part, component, or product are possible in a dynamic network like this, where ideas can be realized in immediate distributed production and where production activities can provide feedback to improve designs.

100kGarages admit that, yes, it’s a smidgen technoutopian, and it’s also an experiment – but the notion of seeding a grassroots manufacturing infrastructure seems to be not just timely but eminently plausible. Might plans like this will provide the much-needed sea-change necessary to rescue the US economy and set it on a path to long-term stability?

Augmented reality from off-the-shelf protocols?

Those of you who follow Chairman Bruce and other such futurist types can’t have failed to notice the Cambrian explosion of buzz around Augmented Reality in the last month or so. I sure have, and I’ll confess to having been thoroughly bitten by the bug; not only does it mesh with my long-running cyberpunk jones, but it’s the logical next step from the metaverse (which still fascinates, though I don’t have the time for exploration that I did a few years ago).

There’s a real sense of imminence about Augmented Reality right now, a vibe similar to that around the internet itself in 1994 when I started university (and my short-lived dead-tree subscription to Wired, not coincidentally). You know the feeling: that whole “you can’t do much with it yet, but give these people a few years and some VC funding and who knows?” sensation; a feeling of potentiality.

Of course, AR is actually quite an old concept (the term was coined around 1990, apparently), but only now has mobile computing technology matured to a point where it can be put into practice at a price level where people like you and I can afford the hardware that runs it. If you’re carrying an iPhone or similar device (I’m an Android guy myself), you’ve got an Augmented Reality terminal in your pocket that’s just waiting for some killer apps to arrive.

Those apps are on their way, with quite a few in demo form already, but AR is a technology that will need infratructure – not hardware infrastructure so much as network protocols to connect the hardware together effectively. Enter Thomas Wrobel, a UK based sci-fi geek (yeah, he’s one of us!) who has developed a proposal for an open Augmented Reality network that could be built using existing protocols like IRC and HTTP. I’ll freely admit that a good 50% of the technical stuff he’s talking about here is way over my head, but the other half is full of things that have the appealing ring of simplicity. Wrobel’s aim is to create an AR system that avoids the ‘browser wars’ that have afflicted the web… and while I’m in no position to judge whether his ideas could actually work, I think it’s safe to say that he (and others like him) probably aren’t too far from some sort of conceptual breakthrough.

Of course, only time will tell if Augmented Reality will become a part of our day-to-day lives just like the internet has, or whether it will be relegated to the same Hall of Unfulfilled Promise that houses its closely related cousin, Virtual Reality. One thing’s for sure: it’s going to be an interesting journey.