No Fab Lab? No problem!

by Emily Whyman     Posted on June 30, 2020

The Future Learning Unit (FLU) at Fab Lab Barcelona have created the ‘SPML Machine and ‘CNC by the Sea’ - for distributed creating, learning, and building for remote working.

Remote working learning

The COVID-19 crisis has made remote learning mandatory for schools, universities, and academies all over the world - including this year’s students of Fab Academy Barcelona and the Master in Design for Emergent Futures (MDEF). Fab Academy is already a distributed learning course, in which students watch weekly lectures from Neil Gershenfeld online connected to others on the Fab Academy network. These courses are usually connected to a Fab Lab so students can fabricate their designs using the machines, however, the labs have been closed.

How has the global Fab Academy programme and MDEF course navigated this shift to remote learning?

The Future Learning research group at Fab Lab Barcelona have designed the ‘SPML Machine’ - otherwise known as the Simple-Personal-Mini-Lab or, the Six-Pack-Mobile Lab. The SPML is an open source mini CNC laser machine the same size as a 6-pack of cans (and only costs around €60 to make!). Not only have they designed a home kit, but also a remote ‘CNC by the Sea’ which you can send designs to and watch them appear.

👉 The ‘CNC by the Sea’


The ‘CNC by the Sea’ - a CNC machine which draws images in the sand sent from different locations via a remote control.

The ‘CNC by the Sea’ was set up by the research team at Fab Lab Barcelona for the students to access the machines remotely so that students can continue their hands-on projects remotely. The machine consists of a 3-axis machine modified to draw in a sandbox, in which students could input any design from their homes and view the designs being drawn via two webcam streams (webcam 1, webcam 2). You can see the images of the designs here.

"We intended to make a collective project with our students remotely, called the ‘CNC by the Sea.’ Students can make a drawing on the sand with a CNC and see the Livestream for 24 hours after. So far, the students have been managing the machine completely on their own and collaboratively taking care of it." Eduardo Chamorro, Fab Lab Barcelona.

Not only did the students get to watch their designs come to life, but they also learned how to produce custom files and gcode scripts to run multiple outputs; how to fix the machine remotely by fixing the firmware online and collaborative management of use times by using issues on the GitLab repository.

🤙 Open source and replicable - make the CNC by the Sea! This repository contains the instructions, files and code to run the 3-axis machine.

👉 The SPML Machine - Six-Pack-Mobile Lab

Introducing the ‘SPML’ - an open-source mini CNC laser machine the same size as a 6-pack which only costs around €60 to make. Designed by the FLU research team at Fab Lab Barcelona.

The SPML was created due to the students’ inability to work physically inside Fab Lab Barcelona, and therefore, use the CNC, laser, and other tools. This has enabled students of the Barcelona Fab Academy and Master in Design for Emergent Futures to continue their learning by doing and making from home during this time of uncertainty and for classes in the ‘new normal’. The SPML is a multitool machine that can CNC and laser, is the same size as a six-pack, costs around €60, can all be fabricated within a Fab Lab, and is fully open source!

🤙 Open source and replicable - Make your own SPML machine! Stay tuned - there will be further updates and modifications for this design. This repository contains the instructions, required components, files and code to make the SMPL.

The two machines were created out of a necessity for the students to be able to continue their learning whilst remaining safe during the COVID-19 outbreak. Amongst disruptive times, innovation often accelerates - these open source tools will continue to be used in our ‘new normal’ society and are available for the Barcelona Fab Academy, Master in Design for Emergent Futures and anyone else who wishes to build their own ‘CNC by the Sea’ or SMPL.

Projects like this have supplied new learning dimensions to the educational space. They provide a hyperconnected learning ecosystem that provides feedback whilst navigating between home, Fab Labs and University. This project reflects how it is possible to learn almost anything in a lab, school or at home, whilst building skills and key competencies to meet social challenges in an uncertain future.

Follow updates from the Future Learning research group on Twitter 🐦

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