Bhutan to host FAB17 summit this year

The summit will bring leaders from over 2,000 FabLab, Maker Spaces, among others, from over 160 countries under one roof

Youths show talent in technology and robotics

KARMA CHIMI | Thimphu

Following the approval of the cabinet in December 2021, the Fab17 summit – the most important digital fabrication event in the world – will be hosted in Bhutan this year.

To share and discuss innovative research, work, approaches, and experiences related to digital fabrication technology as a driver of the fourth industrial revolution, the summit is expected to bring leaders from over 2,000 Fabrication Laboratories (Fab Lab), Maker Spaces, and representatives from research, engineering, manufacturing, arts, and education from over 160 countries.

FabLab Bhutan Director Karma Lhakyi said that the summit provides a global platform and ecosystem for the makers, inventors, artists, researchers, entrepreneurs, and creative people to connect, collaborate and co-create.

As the FabLab focuses on the possibility of digital fabrication and rapid prototyping for hands-on projects, this summit will also benefit to empower young people in innovative ideas and technology to solve real-world problems both at national and international levels and to adopt technological changes.

“Digital fabrication laboratory is an excellent low-cost vehicle to transfer technology, know-how and know why,” Karma Lhakyi continued, adding one of the most beautiful aspects of FabLab is its atoms and bits, which cut-crosses into all the different sectors from education, agricultural, cultural, and manufacturing, among others.

She added it has a tremendous potential to transform a caterpillar into beautiful butterflies by providing access to the state of arts – technology, knowledge, and the robust global network of makers to educate, innovate, and invent using open-source technology and digital fabrication to make “almost anything” throughout Bhutan

Given the ongoing pandemic situation, she said they are planning full-on preparation with an alternative backup plan as a hybrid event as well.

“However, looking back to last year, situations are much more under control during summer,” she added. “Likewise, in the advent of more vaccines, we are hopeful that we will prevail in the current pandemic.’

Fab 1 to 16 summits have been hosted in the USA, China, Japan, Egypt, Europe, and the latest being hosted virtually by Canada in August 2021 – supposed to happen in 2020 – that was delayed because of the pandemic. And the Fab17 summit was also supposed to take place in Bhutan last year but was postponed until this year because of the same reason.

Fablab Bhutan’s achievements and challenges

Since its inception in 2017 following four years of intensive feasibility studies, Fablab Bhutan interacted with diverse backgrounds of peoples across the country and developed advocacy and outreach programs based in the local context – Gross National Happiness Matrix.

“Given the Fablab Bhutan’s organic exponential growth pattern in Bhutan – from policymakers, government agencies, multilateral agencies, local institutions, and an individual from all walks of life throughout Bhutan has embraced and welcomed the Pan – Fablab National expansion throughout Bhutan,” Karma Lhakyi said.

The tangible achievements include launching a Super Fablab of Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) at Thimphu TechPark (TTP), construction ongoing for CST-JICA Fablab at the College of Science and Technology (CST) in Phuentsholing, Bio Fablab at the College of Natural Resources (CNR) in Punakha, FabLab Gelephu, Fablab Paro at the Royal Academy of Bhutan and Bhutan Accelerator Lab by UNDP Bhutan in Thimphu.

With its vision to transfer the ownership of technology to people, she said, it will never be sustainable without having conducive societal supporting factors like policy, economic, and societal. “These are vital aspects to harness the full potential of these powerful disruptive technologies,” she added.

Citing the example of how Russian electrical engineers failed and went bankrupt, she said, the history of Science tells that technology is primitive. “Without the vibrant societal platform, we wouldn’t be able to rip the full benefit from this very powerful disruptive technology,” she said, adding that such a societal platform is still missing in Bhutan.

“Therefore, without the radical transformation of our societal factors in Bhutan, we wouldn’t be able to benefit from technology,” added Karma Lhakyi.