A Fab Lab is a community inventors’ workshop offering digital fabrication on a personal scale, in which new products can be built by both businesses and individuals.
The Fab Lab program was started in the Media Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a collaboration between the Grassroots Invention Group and the Center for Bits and Atoms (CBA), broadly exploring how the content of information relates to its physical representation, and how a community can be powered by technology at the grassroots level. The Center for Bits and Atoms consortium is still actively involved in continuing research in areas related to description and fabrication but does not operate or maintain any of the labs worldwide. The Fab Lab concept also grew out of a popular class at MIT named “How To Make (Almost) Anything.”
While Fab Labs have yet to compete with mass production and its associated economies of scale in fabricating widely distributed products, they have already shown the potential to empower individuals to create smart devices for themselves. These devices can be tailored to local or personal needs in ways that are not practical or economical using mass production.*
Fab Labs have spread from inner-city Boston to rural India, from South Africa to the North of Norway. Activities in fab labs range from technological empowerment to peer-to-peer project-based technical training to local problem-solving to small-scale high-tech business incubation to grass-roots research. Projects being developed and produced in fab labs include solar and wind-powered turbines, thin-client computers and wireless data networks, analytical instrumentation for agriculture and healthcare, custom housing, and rapid-prototyping of rapid-prototyping machines.**
Fab Labs share core capabilities, so that people and projects can be shared across them. In order to become part of the Fab Lab network, new labs must assemble the required hardware and software inventory and accept the Fab Lab Charter.
**Source: MIT’s ‘Fab Central’