Fab Lab Boston

My first visit to the Fab Lab - inventor's paradise - a microcontroller in two hours

The Hello World Circuit board

I've got a workshop next week with the Internet Zero guys at the Media Lab. It got me thinking about the How to Make Almost Anything class, by reputation the most over-subscribed class at MIT. They put together a set of equipment and a syllabus which teaches you essentially how to build anything at all.

The next best thing

Fortunately there are community outreach programmes which aim to deliver the same skills and tools to everyone by installing $40,000 Fab Labs all over the globe. So I thought I'd try it out - guessing that there was bound to be one in Boston. Sure enough I found some info about Boston Fab Lab and made a plan to visit and create something. Couple of possible projects in mind but ended up settling on building an EL Wire clock, and arranged to attend the Open Access evening this Thursday night.

I made the mistake of trusting Google Maps to find out where the place was, and it sent me to a point about 2 miles away but after I finally got there, it took only a few minutes to get going on a teach-yourself microcontroller project which provides a mini-sensor platform which uploads sample data when you connect it to a computer. The guys supporting people the show are really helpful and not only know how to build almost anything, but also how to support people learning about it.

So I've not only prepared and created my own microcontroller board with a computer controlled router, I've been able to create the serial connection for the microcontroller to upload the sensor data, and the parallel port controller used to program the chip, all from materials right there in the lab, and all for free. I already feel I've learned a load about microcontrollers. I can't wait to finish this project and move on to build my own project from scratch.

Unexpected Bonus

One of the strangest things I discovered was that the guy running the Fab Lab is also working on a drag-and-drop Scratch-inspired programming environment so we've been feverishly exchanging notes, since he's also invested a chunk of time in prototypes. Their scope is a bit different though, since they want to program microcontrollers with their language. I'm sure we'll have plenty to chat about as I make progress towards a public trial for BT Rules.