Fab Lab London opens in the heart of the City (Wired UK)


“We’re going to have
robots, a quadcopter fest, homemade
laser cutters and milling machines…” The list goes on. Somewhere in
there is also a £30,000 laser cutter, 3D
printers
, Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, Galileo boards and piles of sensors. This is the beginning of
Fab Lab London, a public
makers space. And it’s an impressive physical representation of its
cofounders’ imagination and ambitions for the hub, sprawling across
4,000 sqaure feet of desirable office space in the heart of the
City of London.

Cofounders Ande Gregson and Tony Fish showed
Wired.co.uk around the office space ahead of its opening today,
which will see interested tinkerers, makers
and investors flock to the spot. Investors, because this is a hub
with its own inbuilt ecosystem. Fab Lab may be sharing the space at
1 Frederick’s Place, just down the street from
Bank,
with important partner the Royal
Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce
(RSA). But head one floor up and charity Bathtub 2 Boardroom is
present. The organisation helps match empty commercial space with
early stage startups
. It helps with mentoring, and has
partners in the corporate world, including KPMG. Then on the upper
floors is The Escape School, which is supported by investment
crowdfunding site Crowdcube. The focus is on workshops for people
wanting a career change, potentially leaving their city jobs.
“There is a big shift happening — people are thinking differently
about their careers,” says Escape the City cofounder Rob Symington.
“The shift is towards a more entrepreneurial and independent way of
working. The era of a job for life is over.” It’s his
organisation’s city links that will certainly help this Fab Lab –
one of more than 350 worldwide and the first in London — to really
thrive.

It will also help, that the Fab Lab cofounders have
decided to focus on one particular area that has plenty of
commercial and public value — the internet of things.

“We want to focus on systems-based products and
services, rather than welding, fine art or sculpture,” Gregson told
Wired.co.uk. “The tech actually embedded into a product, so that
could be a smartwatch, a robot, a city sensor, for agriculture,
retail — all kinds of things used out there in the real
world.”

It’s why, amongst the mountains of hardware the team
has borrowed, bought or been loaned, is the Smart Citizen board,
which picks up everything from CO2 levels and light to wind power
and humidity. “We can publish all the data about this whole
building with it,” says Fish.

When Wired.co.uk visited Fab Lab, there was one room
piled with these boards, smartphone-controlled paper airplanes
PowerUp 3.0, Sugru and more. The hodgepodge of hardware is the
visual coming together of the two founders, who have spent years
working in the business supporting this kind of grassroots growth
in their own way. 

Gregson has founded Science
Rewired, a project to connect scientists, educators and young
people; global communications company Media 140 and the Big Data
Week event. He’s also run the Marathon de Sables, also known as the
toughest race on Earth. Twice. Tony Fish joined Gregson in the
venture last October, and is a serial entrepreneur with experience
in the mobile, media and internet sectors. The two have accumulated
as many key relationships in the business as bits of hardware lying
around the new City base, so together decided it was time the
capital had a space for educators, entrepreneurs and the curious to
come together and make a real impact.

“Anyone living and working in central London
who wants to learn new skills — from 3D technology to fixing their
broken printer for longer use — can drop into the Hub and work
with our technicians,” said RSA co-director of Design Sophie
Thomas. “We want to unlock hidden potential through the application
of these digital technologies, hardware design, traditional
fabrication principles, and sustainable design
practices.”

Fab Lab has already offered spots on site to startups
that come out of an initiative run by Cisco, John Lewis and others,
and further partners include Intel, Ultimaker and Spark.io. It’s
why items like a £30,000 laser cutter crop up — companies will
loan them for free, to get a spot running a class once a month or
some other mutually beneficial exchange that supports the maker
community on-site.

The vast support has meant the project could takeoff
relatively rapidly in the past 18 months, with little startup
costs. In line with the ethos of the RSA’s Great Recovery Project,
which promotes the circular economy, the whole space was put
together on a tight budget. Gregson says they only bought three
things — everything else on the floor was recycled from other
parts of the building, even the walls. 

Today will see the space launch with a “restart
party” where anyone can bring along broken electronics to fix,
while a 3D printing masterclass will also be ongoing. Workshops
held over the coming months will cover everything from how to
secure investment, to coding or how to pitch to investors.

The spark Fab Lab’s cofounders were hoping to ignite,
already appears to have been lit. Gregson says emails have been
pouring in from teenagers asking when they can join, and plenty of
budding entrepreneurs.

“This space has opportunities for biotech, for
hacking, for anything really,” he tells us. “It’s only limited by
imagination.”

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19 September 2014 | 10:39 am – Source: wired.co.uk

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