Wait, what is a Fab Lab again? A space and organization that helps people come up with new ideas, solve problems and make things. It looks a lot like a modern day inventor’s workshop. At our lab we spend a lot of time teaching people how to use design software and advanced digital tools. Just look at our pictures to see what the lab looks like, who uses it and what they make.
Who is the Fab Lab for? Does it cost money? The Fab Lab is free and open to anyone in the community. This includes University of Illinois students, staff and faculty, but also artists, entrepreneurs, hobbyists, parents and really anyone else from the community who is interested in making. There are no fees or memberships (open lab is free!), but we do charge for materials at-cost and have some minimal fees for tools. Some formal workshops may have fees and summer camps are priced to be competitive with local Park District rates.
Do I need to make an appointment? When are you open? Where do I start? Who do I talk to? No appointment is needed to visit the lab during our open hours. We suggest you begin by talking to a staff person or volunteer or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with questions. They will give you a short introduction or tour and help you get started on a project. If you have a large group or would like to visit at a different time, please schedule a workshop or lab rental or ask about a tour.
Where can I park? There are meters to the north around a circle drive and to the south in the parking adjacent. Parking is $1 per hour and free after 5pm in the south lot. Make sure to feed the meter, tickets are $20-25!
I represent a community organization. How can I schedule a workshop or partner with you? Please email email@example.com or talk to a staff member to learn more about our process of collaboration.
Can I drop my kids off at the Fab Lab? We do not permit unsupervised children under the age of 14 in the lab. Teens high school age and up who have participated in a past Fab Lab camp or workshop series can work independently with parent consent. Parents don’t need to actually participate in activities with their children, they just need to be present. Our lab is not equipped for care of infants (changing stations, safe/clean floors). These facilities can be found in the ACES library across the street, however.
What forms of payment do you accept? We currently can accept cash, check, credit card as well as UIUC unit (CFOAP) account numbers. We cannot charge to UIUC student accounts.
Can I leave my project-in-progress somewhere in the Fab Lab? Yes, you may store it in the basement. Put your name on it. If you don’t resume work on it within 2 weeks it may be donated, discarded or recycled.
What’s your policy on weapons? The Fab Lab complies with the campus-wide policy about possession of weapons. This includes dangerous knives and air soft guns in use without eye protection. We will not 3D print or otherwise fabricate any kind of part for use in actual functional weaponry.
FAQ for Journalists
How long have you existed?
Planning meetings began meeting in the fall of 2008. The fablab began with initial tests with groups of young people in the Summer of 2009, and then followed with an official opening in the October of 2009. We’ve been open to the public consistently ever since!
Who is the Fab Lab for?
Our audience is both community and university. Our users are a diverse group in many ways as they come from a variety backgrounds and cultures. They have ranged from 10 years to 92 years old, and include adult hobbyists, students and researchers, retirees and professional artisans.
Some maker spacers are small, close-knit but isolated clubs. Others are large corporate or university Fab Labs. We strive to break out of this model to get to the underserved parts of our community. Besides maintaining a lab that is free to use we reach people where they are in four ways:
- Open Lab – Our lab is open for free to the public several days a week. This includes times during the day, night and weekends.
- Bringing in groups, summer camps – We arrange special workshops with organizations frequently. Thanks to our regular staff we are able to host these workshops at virtually any time. We also run camps with hundreds of attendees each summer.
- Event deployments – We often go out and run booths at events. We have a dedicated set of mobile tools, example creations and publicity materials to make this easy. This allows us to network with many people and break the lab out of the lab to raise awareness.
- Mini Labs – The above is not enough to really get to some of the underserved parts of our community. We’ve specifically set up several mini labs around town to directly insert Fab Lab opportunities into powerful contexts – including both local public libraries and several after-school centers, and we have also partnered with schools and retirement communities. Read about our local partners.
An example user case might be when one of our volunteers brought in her father, a former engineer, to work on his invention. He needed assistance learning the necessary computer skills so a teen user sitting next to him in the lab took the time to assist him. Later they were both in the electronics room at the same time where the young man was trying to unsuccessfully solder circuitry on his board. The retired engineer sat and taught him how to do it. While our users may come from many different places in life they all come together and form knowledge and relationships through creation.
Who is on your team?
The CUC FabLab is an open source community (think about the implications of that term!) of people who like to design and make things. We have staff and volunteers who come from a wide range of experience including engineers, artists, entrepreneurs, professors, fashion designers, librarians, a blacksmith, teachers, parents, kids and students. Our core leadership group has varied over the years but has always required representation and participation from both the community and university – this is a central value for us.
How do you feel you have impacted the community?
We celebrate entrepreneurial initiative, collaboration and lifelong learning. We provide the community many resources, including skilled volunteers, computers, computer-controlled (CNC) machines, advanced materials and electronics assembly tools. These high tech tools have made it possible for patrons to build virtually anything imaginable, from simple stickers to fully-functional robots. The uniqueness of our site has encouraged local inventors to develop prototypes for their designs. The CUC FabLab is part of a global network of Fab Labs — which has made it possible for us to make many connections with like minded people around the world sharing our experience globally.
Other impacts might include:
- Innovation Driven by Community-University Partnership – Working with community groups has enabled us to develop more effective methods for teaching people how to learn and use technology in relevant ways. Examples have inclded using a game interface (Spore) as a more effective way to do 3D rendering, connecting art foundations basics to digital graphic design methods and enabling collaborative pedagogical production and documentation via Google Docs.
- Recasting the Digital Divide – Community Informatics usually focuses on the low end of the digital divide, people without access to and skills with basic computer technology. Historically, rapid fabrication and prototyping production facilities have been open only to highly privileged individuals such as designers, engineers and researchers in university and corporate settings. The Fab Lab breaks up both of these things by enabling often disenfranchised individuals, especially teens and the elderly, to be a part of the cutting-edge of digital technology. Individuals go beyond simply typing email, plugging in to Facebook or playing flash games to actually inventing and building solutions to problems.
- Alternative Learning Contexts – Learning that takes place within the Fab Lab is often of two alternative varieties, non-formal, and informal. These forms are notably distinguished in that they are less hierarchical, less propaedeutic in nature (reliant on former schooling) and are typically voluntary. Even though learners may set out with the specific objective of learning how to, say, build a box with a laser engraver, they necessarily develop other seemingly unrelated skills simultaneously. For instance, the person interested in creating a star-shaped box may have to struggle to learn how to properly describe what they wish to do, practicing verbal communication skills, and later, if they decide to draw it, visual expression and projection as well. This learning is incidental and unintentional, but is consciously absorbed. Attitudes and behaviors are crucial to successful scholarly learning experiences. These are ‘learned’ through the life-long process of socialization, as people perform their identities in everyday life. The Fab Lab has the potential to elate and incite curiosity, drum up motivation, encourage divergent thinking through experimentation, and require patience and persistence.
- Metrics for Digital Literacy – First, people learn a fundamentally empowering lesson: they too can be a creator of things. Not just information, not just ideas, but the combination of the two applied to real world physical objects that they can hold (within minutes!). Implicit to this notion is that they are able to influence the world around them. Everyone involved may experience this empowerment: students, teachers, and volunteers. Second, people work towards demystifying the black boxes so rampant in our world today. Many people grow up without learning how the inside of a computer works or what takes places behind the scenes as a graphic is created. The Fab Lab encourages digging beneath the surface (seeing inside of the open-face 3D printer) to discover cause and effect processes. Even just opening the lid of the Silhouette Cameo cutter and trading out the blade and loading the cutting mat helps to dismantle small fears that could eventually accumulate to the debilitating levels often seen in some elderly people when they try to learn how to use computers. Rejecting the surface world and peering beneath the surface of technologies is key to critiquing them and mastering them to make them their own.