Theater of Cruelty

Wonderful fabrications

A farmer in Nord-Troms gives the sheep their mobile phones. It can make your sci-fi dream come true.


[atoms] In the latest Superman movie, the villain Lex Luthor tries to create a new continent by building crystals atom by atom. Under the motto "how to make almost anything" – "researchers at the Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MiT) in the United States, will create the technology that can make Luthors dream possible.

The man behind the idea and director of the CBA, Neil Gerhsenfeld, believes the next scientific revolution will come in what he calls personal fabrication. In the book Fab: The Coming Revolution on Your Desktop – From Personal Computers to Personal Fabrication, he explains how the production of technology, which is now carried out in large factories, can be done at home at the desk, by each individual consumer.

science fiction?

As the PC made computer technology affordable and accessible at home with each one, Gershenfeld will make fabrication something that everyone can do. The goal is to be able to build things from the atomic level. "Finally, we want Star Trek-like molecular production facilities, which can make anything from scratch," Gershenfeld said in an interview with Computerworld magazine last year.

Currently this is science fiction, Gershenfeld himself has stated that it will take 20 years before we have good enough technology. But he has already started personal manufacturing projects in several parts of the world. Since technology has not gone so far as to build things from the atomic level yet, Gershenfeld has designed desk labs with more conventional tools. He has designed what he calls FabLab (FabLab stands for Fabrication Laboratory), which will make it possible to make almost anything using a few simple tools.

Sheep with mobile

Former sheep farmer Haakon Karlsen has started a subdivision of CBA in Lyngen in Nord-Troms. Karlsen first got attention when he created a warning system for his sheep.

- We had a number of projects on Solli farm, related to the primary industry. We worked with tracking animals. We called it the wireless animal back then, but what we did was give the sheep cell phones.

Using mobile technology, Karlsen created a system that could tell at any time where each sheep was. An apparatus was attached to the collar of the sheep. Sensors can be connected to the mobile phone, such as an accelerometer, which senses change in motion. That way the farmer can get information about the animal's health.

- If the animal does not move for a while, it can call home and say that it is sick, says Karlsen.

One of the early partners was Telenor. When IT Fornebu opened, the project was presented to Mit at a conference.

- We are the first in Norway to have a cooperation agreement with MiT, Karlsen brags.

Innovative village

Karlsen received a FabLab from CBA, and started MiT FabLab Norway. The projects the center has

Worked on includes a broadband antenna, a body-worn computer and a wind turbine blade de-icing system. The sheep tracking system has been acquired by Telenor. A sub-company, Telespor, is working on developing the project.

- The concept is new, and is in furious development. Three years ago we put three pieces in a barn. We now have Innovation Village with ten employees, says Karlsen.

In December 2005, Karlsen met the then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who was interested in how FabLab could be used to create new technology around the world.

Tor Petter Christensen is working to introduce FabLab to school students. The county of Troms supports the project.

- We let the different young people try the equipment. They sit down at the computer and design their own product, which

the page is cut out by a laser cutter. What is exciting is that the students think digitally from the first moment, says Christensen.

So far, the project has been limited to the municipality of Lyngen. In the fall, FabLab will visit upper secondary schools throughout Troms county. The goal is to motivate students to continue studying in electronics. Christensen was also surprised at how popular this is among girls, who are often underrepresented in technological studies.

Spray TV

Gershenfeld got the idea from FabLab after giving a series of lectures called "How to make (almost) anything". The lectures proved to be very popular, even among non-academics. His students created things like an alarm clock you have to break to make sure you wake up, and a web browser for parrots.

- CBA was created five years ago, to study the borderland between atoms and bits. During the process, we discovered that we needed to make instruments from nanoscale to meter scale, says Sherry Lasstier, information manager at the center.

She says that they are working on constructing objects at the atomic level. One of the projects is to create screens on spray jugs, by painting microscopic devices.

- You will be able to surf the web, change color as you like, she says.

FabLab, which consists of simple tools, cannot create anything at the atomic level. However accurate they are. The physical resolution is in microns (one millionth of a meter) and microseconds (one millionth of a second). Among other things, a FabLab contains a laser cutter, which can cut out two- and three-dimensional structures, a milling machine, some small electronic components, and programming tools. The programs used are open source software, developed at the Center for Bits and Atoms.

One of the projects is a copier that makes three-dimensional copies. 3D copiers already exist, but Lasstier says they are trying to make copies with electronic components.

- Then you will, for example, be able to make robots, which practically wander out of the copier, says Lasstier.

You may also like