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Fab Lab Egypt: The Techie Wonderland Ramps Up Production Ahead Of Maker Faire Cairo

The geeks at the Fabrication Laboratory (Fab Lab) are hard at work, designing and building mind-blowing sci-fi projects to exhibit at the Maker Faire -Cairo so naturally, our resident Nerdmaster, Skot Thayer went over to geek out with them.

Though you may be unfamiliar with the term, makers are not a new phenomenon. The popular notion is that makers live lives full of high-tech fancy – holed up in their Fab Labs and covered in robot parts, 3D printing materials, and metal shavings, working like mad scientists on unfathomably complex projects using materials you must need a Master’s degree just to pronounce. Truth be told, however, the maker movement is remarkably simple: a grassroots community of creative types with a passion for producing, fabricating, and constructing. That’s it; that’s all it takes to be considered a maker. There have always been makers in society, even before they had a trendy name. Only recently has the power of technology catapulted the potentialities for makers into the stratosphere. Builders, bakers, painters, sculptors, young, old, experienced, and amateur; all who create are welcome in Makerspace.

In Egypt, home of some of the greatest historical maker monuments, the first mini Maker Faire was held last year and proceeded to completely destroy all expectations for such an event in Cairo. Though it was supposed to be mini, thousands of enthusiastic attendees swarmed over The GrEEK Campus for the better part of the day, marvelling at the robots, 3D printers, Iron Man suits, and other technological wonders. The resounding success has led the international maker movement to approve a full-fledged Maker Faire in Cairo.  

Starting four years ago, the founders of Cairo’s Fabrication Laboratory (aka Fab Lab aka kind of like a Batcave-type home base) took on their first project, which was the space itself. “The main goal was having the space be self-sustaining, doing whatever we could to maintain the machines, the electricity, and all the things in between,” Aser Nabil, one of the founding members of the Egyptian Fab Lab - and my new nerdy-hetero-man-crush - tells me as, nearby, a handyman on a ladder is fiddling with wires, making the lights flicker on and off. “That’s one of the things in between,” he says with a giant grin on his face.

The Fab Lab in Mohandeseen is in the midst of its most recent round of renovations. The shared workspace, which is usually the place where teams could gather together, butts in beanbags, and brainstorm, has been overtaken by small robots and a partially built 3D printer. Those, and several other projects displaced by the chaos caused by the updates, dominate the table. Around us, workers and team members swiftly move about the space, holding papers scribbled with sketches and notes, laptops that look like they could power a particle accelerator, and half-dismembered robots.

The room beyond is a self-contained manufacturing and fabricating workshop, home to a Makerbot 3D printer, which was - at the moment - creating a finger ring that presumably grants the wearer some kind of superpower. Next to that was a subtractive fabrication machine that the Fab Labers use to create their own circuit boards - a vinyl cutter that allows them to create everything from stickers for laptops to designs for t-shirts with a rocket-propelled unicorn on them. Among the other toys is a big orange box that had a few folks busily working, opening and closing a small door. When the door was open for a minute, you could see a bright light emanating forth. While my guide explained to me the finer design points of the laser cutter, I kind of tuned him out, overexcited by the prospect of playing with lasers. They wouldn’t let me, though.
The Fab Lab even has its own dedicated area for handling chemicals. I assume it’s for when they eventually ‘Break Bad’.
Starting out with just a laser cutter and a basic 3D printer, one of the first successes of the Fab Lab in Egypt was actually a Ramadan lantern. “It was all laser-cut and press fit together, no glue. It was a product that was sold throughout Ramadan and was a big hit; a lot of people wanted it, and a lot of people came to the lab,” Aser explained. “We did a lot of projects that way, and there was a variety of them - from niche-market projects to even super research projects, like nano drug carrier control units, and metal particles that are electromagnetically controlled to administer medicine where it’s needed and minimise side-effects for treatments such as chemotherapy."

Besides trying to save the world with little doctor robots, the team at the Fab Lab has several projects in various stages of completion around the office - a purple spider-bot who looks like the creation of some arachnid-themed super-villain, but they assured me is relatively free of malice and is harmless; a bot arm set up in front of a kind of easel, a crayon gripped in its cold, lifeless robot fingers, awaiting signals from a computer to create its next masterpiece; flying drones (disabled for legal reasons, of course) made from 3D printed parts; various parts to things that I couldn’t even begin to piece together; and scraps of wood, metal, paper, and I’m sure some carbon nanotubes or something. It was chaos but under control, the clutter of a group of geniuses who are having an absolute blast living in the future. And they’ve all been working feverishly to get a myriad of projects together for the upcoming  Maker Faire Cairo.  

Check out the  Maker Faire Cairo on Facebook and learn more about global maker culture here

Photography by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions. 

Photographer: Ahmed Najeeb