In December of 2013 I took a trip to Peru and was lucky enough to meet with makers at Fab Lab Lima. I wrote my first post about Luis Ernesto Flores Olazo’s Ironman maskand this is my second about Benom Juarez, who gave me a tour of the Fab Lab and shared a bit about what he’s currently working on with others, as well as plans for the future.
If you’ve ever been to Peru, you may have visited the jungle or have been exposed to the beautiful and vibrant textile communities throughout the region. Or perhaps you’ve seen Uros Island on Lake Titicaca, which is an island with structures built from reeds that grow in the surrounding area. Learn more about projects out of Fab Lab Lima that relate to Peru’s rich and diverse culture in this interview with Benom. I’ve shared a bit more about my experiences in Peru on my blog, Adventures in Making.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to get involved with the Fab Lab Lima.
I grew up in the Peruvian jungle, where nature inspired a special sensitivity and creativity, but I was also witness to the impact of terrorism in one of the poorest areas of my country. Nature and creativity, as opposed to terrorism and exclusion, would mark, years later, my vocation to connect “Innovation & Inclusion.”
My family migrated to Lima and when I was 16 years old and I fell in love with this city that connected me with a new nature with its “forests” of mats and bricks, “rivers” of vans and vendors, and its grey heaven. The city confronted my sense of the jungle’s freedom with the extreme need of many families that, like mine, had to migrate to the capital.
Lima became my first laboratory where I experimented on technological projects for social innovation. As a result of my work on this project, I was selected (with my partner Victor Freundt) as a founder of the Fab Lab Lima (the first one in South America), a project of the Center for Bits and Atoms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT-CBA), sponsored by the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation for Development (AECID) and promoted by the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC, Barcelona). I remembered that uncertainty will always be the way.
2. Can you tell us about some of the projects that have come out of Fab Lab Lima?
Today, as president of Fab Lab Peru, Fab Academy tutor, and coordinator of Latin America Fab Lab Network (LaT Fab), I work for technological democratization through the creation of digital fabrication laboratories and cutting-edge products based on multiculturalism and biodiversity.
Multiculturalism: Latin America is filled with a vast range of traditional processes: jewelry, textiles, carving, etc., with 80% of the PEA (economic active population) linked to handicrafts and small-scale industry. At LaT Fab, we develop projects that involve digital manufacturing, optimizing mechanical procedures to provide more time to artisan/producers to invest in creative processes, directly affecting the value of their products and improving their quality of life. There have been multiple projects created with multiculturalism in mind. For example, in 2011, Walter Gonzales designed and manufactured a low-cost digital loom that optimizes 60% of the production of a traditional loom, resulting in greater efficiency for both the creation of materials, and the fabrication and installation of the loom.
Eco-Diversity: The Andes is one of the richest regions of the world in biodiversity, and paradoxically, one of the poorest social area. At Fab LaT we develop and research new ways to connect digital fabrication with local community and ecosystems, investigating the wealth of materials, complex shapes, bio-regenerative processes, etc., and develop solutions to energy demands, health, education, etc. of local communities.
3. What are some of the challenges that you face while developing programming and projects in Lima?
In the last four years the Fab Lab’s growth has been exponential, reaching more than 250 laboratories worldwide. Despite appearing to be an inclusive project, 75% of Fab Labs are located in developed countries (40% in Europe and 35% in the U.S.) and 5% are in Latin America. Why is this? Perhaps the concept of “Technological Democratization,” which was conceived of in developed countries, differs from Latin America’s reality. Some key cultural factors include:
Innovative Thinking: Most universities and institutions in Latin America guide the students towards consumer technology education, but not development. This reality is reflected in professionals, companies, and organizations that focus their activities on production and trade but rarely on innovation. Less than 2% of companies incorporate innovation and development activities.
Cooperative Thinking: At the low level of innovation we add an entrenched culture of competition: “win/lose.” Most companies talk of cooperation, but they often don’t practice.
Economic and Administrative Factors: Acquiring skills, tools, and digital fabrication equipment in Latin America is between three to eight times more expensive than in Europe or in the U.S. (import expenses, transportation, customs, living cost, etc.). In addition, bureaucracy can take between three to six times longer than in the U.S. or Europe.
4. What accomplishments have you or others in your community made, while developing Fab Lab Lima? (This can be programming, project, or even infrastructure-related).
Fab Lab Lima was founded in 2010, one the first ones in South America, and organized the World Congress of Fab Labs, Fab7 Lima 2011.
We coordinated the establishment of the first Fab Lab in Brazil (USP, 2011), Mexico (Anahuac University, 2012), Argentina (CMD 2013), and deployed in Medellin and were awarded as the most innovative city at the world (2013), with the most innovative lab in this city being FabLab UNAL-Medellin.
We also implemented three new laboratories in Lima: TECSUP, ESAN, and Fab Lab MET, special Lab in the Historic Center of Lima, with emphasis on children and social entrepreneurs, integrating digital fabrication with cultural legacy as music, gastronomy, architecture, etc.
For 2014-15, we’re worked toward the addition of 25 new labs in 15 new cities and 6 new countries in Latin America — an estimated 200% increase in the current number.
The Floating Fab Lab Amazon is a laboratory designed to provide alternatives to the main challenges of today’s world: climate change and social inclusion, integrating the most advanced technologies in digital manufacturing with the potential of the cultural and natural diversity of the Amazon territory (one of the most affected areas by the global warming). This lab will be focused on biotechnology, biomaterials, digital handicraft and forest conservation.
We face a revolution that is transforming the daily lives of people (digital fabrication) and a territory (Amazon rainforest) that has great potential to give response to world challenges. Its condition of green heart makes it the ideal place where the manufacturing of the future could be incubated, exploring alternatives towards a responsible and responsive industry; integrating local and global process; providing access to the benefits of digital manufacturing to native population to solve their problems as health, energy, and education; and integrating people, institutions, and countries worldwide for the conservation of the Amazon.