Friday, May 2, 2008

TechShop should expand to the developing world

TechShop in Menlo Park (source: Make Magazine)

Today Boing Boing (one of my favorite blogs) highlighted a really cool company called TechShop. It provides lab space with every kind of machine that a D-I-Yer can dream about. For a low monthly membership, anyone can access the shop's large workspace and machinery, and get a community of other people to bounce ideas off (on the video below, you'll get an idea of what a space like this can do...including teach you to build a car!).

I really really think that a TechShop concept is desperately needed in developing countries, particularly the India's, China's, and Kenya's of the world where ideas and entrepreneurship abound, but people lack the workspace, knowledge, community (especially), or finances to get equipment of their own.

For the concept to work though, there are some things that need to be taken into consideration. I've worked out a way to combat some of these issues:

1. The problems with lack of electricity, can be combated by starting out small and basic; by having (biodiesel, diesel or biogas) generators, or even using the workshop as a training space to build generators (so that the farmers can build their own). Lighting is easy, particularly if efficient lanterns (LED, solar charged CFLs, or such) are provided or can be rented. Most of India, for example, is connected to a power grid of some sort. The problem is that the grid is extremely unreliable and power comes on during the day when no one can use the point is to charge the batteries when the power is flowing and use them in the night.

2. Lack of basic knowledge. This is probably the most critical issue as quite often, people have no concept of building their own stuff, or what tools are capable of, or even how to go about building something they envision in their heads. This can be combated by hiring trained local artisans to man the workshop at different times and providing advice as necessary; developing pictoral user guides for the tools; and doing promotion workshops in the villages to get people started (eg. how to build a plough out of a piece of wood, how to build a thatched roof, etc). I know for a fact that a lot of men end up using their evening time either drinking or doing other pointless activities, and would gladly switch that for something as curiously engaging as this.

3. Better financing options: Since the poor live by the day, financing options need to run by the hour or quarter of an hour.

However in bigger cities, where there is better electricity, education, higher willingness to pay, and in general wealthier people, this could be run similar to the U.S and will do extremely well...

See Boing Boing TV (BBTV)'s visit to TechShop:

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