This fall, a struggling microbusiness in Malibu, Calif., has never felt so promising. The world’s first ever large-scale, publicly funded Fab Lab, the L.A. Times reports, will open to high-tech users in November. It’s a technological marvel, designed to rapidly prototyping materials from photocopier bits and bytes.
Why, you ask? Why in a city of 800,000 people has a budding maker’s collective invested $2 million in this? The folks behind it are no guru, researchers, engineers or artists—nor are they the Los Angeles-only capitalists we might expect to be fueling such a venture. Instead, they are vendors.
Fab Labs, a product of the Museum of Modern Art-funded Bureau of Architecture, are not permanent shops, nor are they to be mistaken for recent trendy workspaces like Milk Studios and i.am+ facilities. Instead, they are leased by groups of entrepreneurs or small manufacturers that rent space, run the lab and get licenses to use it for up to a year. Each Fab Lab has three users, all of whom sit on the board and can expect to visit the lab at least four times a year, per their lease, to use the advanced, cost-effective designs, hardware and software at their disposal. The L.A. Lab, to open in the Nov. 10 Tech Museum, will run as a public exhibition.
Fab Labs have cropped up across the country, but so far, the most visited are in New York and San Francisco. New York’s Fab Lab, which opened in 2011, attracted 55,000 users last year. No other city has ever had one, and New York’s public lab drew so many participants they couldn’t keep up. It closed last summer.
San Francisco’s Fab Lab just launched a beta version. But like New York’s, it has found a powerful sponsor in Google.
“If you think of what Fab Labs are doing, it’s the future of manufacturing,” says Maria Lamas, vice president of product design and development at New York Fab Lab.