THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The state government, which was planning to distribute Raspberry Pi kits to school students, might just replace it with computers made right here. That was one of the ideas mooted, when Neil Gershenfeld, director, Centre for Bits and Atoms, met up with Chief Minister Oommen Chandy at the Secretariat. Kerala Startup Mission had invited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor to set up a Fab Lab network in the state.
He told the Chief Minister that Kerala has gone the furthest in setting up Fab Labs, even though there has been a few such labs in other parts of the country. As part of the phase I of the project two Fab Labs- one at Technopark, here and the other at Start-up Village, Kochi will be set up.
Mission CEO Jayashankar Prasad said that talks are going on with Kerala Technnological University Vice-Chancellor, to see how the network can be expanded to colleges. Neil told ‘Express’ that Fab Labs bring in means to produce products on demand locally. “The reasons for doing this could be business, entertainment, education or infrastructure. It is a new kind of infrastructure for the state of Kerala,” he said. He said that it is very aligned with the ‘Make-in-India’ programme. “There is a goal of expanding manufacturing in India. But until recently, largely that meant low cost jobs, mass manufacturing where you compete on cost. Personal fabrication means you can make products on demand locally, to use locally,” he said.
He likened it to the equivalent of the personal computers in fabrication. ‘How to Make Almost Anything’ was the title of Gershenfeld’s highly popular class at MIT in the 90s. The class later led him on to make Fab Lab.
In the recent times the idea of personalised fabrication is catching on. Barcelona, which has huge unemployment issues, is on its way to become a Fab City, he said. This enables every consumer to be a manufacturer, he said. The Fab Lab is now a network of about 500 labs around the world. “Every year the number has been doubling. Fab Lab is like a brand name. But unlike say a McDonald’s it is not a corporation,” he said.
“There has been a digital revolution in communication. Now it is time for a digital revolution in fabrication, where data is turned into products,” he said.
The budget for the first phase of the Fab Lab project in Kerala is around `6 crore. The Fab Lab set up at Technopark has cost `3 crores. Cost varies with the tools installed in it. In colleges, the Kerala Startup Mission is looking at public-private partnership models, but there has been no decisions on that yet.