Innovation, creativity and 'cool things'
RUTHERFORDTON — "Who knows when the next big idea is going to come, or where it's going to come from? It could come from here," said Joe Whiteside as he tinkered with a soldering gun to melt metal and create a flashing LED button.
Whiteside is the owner and operator of Rutherford's newest fabrication laboratory, or Fab Lab, a small-scale workshop offering personal digital fabrication, 3D printing, laser cutting and CNC machining.
Fab Lab Rutherford is a community of students, artists, industrial designers, inventors, programmers, hackers and tinkerers, who share a love for learning and fostering creativity through the use of technology.
"We are part of a worldwide network of Fab Labs, providing the public with a community work space and the opportunity to use technology to help with creative projects and products," Whiteside said. "We not only want to give people an outlet to be creative, but also a place where they can have access to technology not otherwise affordable. Fab Lab helps people get the ideas out of their heads and turn them into a reality."
A Fab Lab is generally equipped with various computer-controlled tools and materials, with the aim to make "almost anything," including technology-enabled products often limited to mass production.
Fab Lab Rutherford also provides a variety of classes, workshops and camps, focusing on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) projects, 21st Century job training and building a creative community.
"We want to get kids involved with STEM-based projects and expose them to technology at an early age," Whiteside said. "We can also help build a bigger trained job force by preparing young adults for jobs before they are 18."
In partnership with Google+, RadioShack and MAKE magazine, Fab Lab Rutherford is currently holding a "Maker Camp" for children ages 8-18.
Kids can still join the camp, which runs through Aug. 16 and includes hands-on projects like creating flashing LED buttons and building robots.
The Fab Lab has also successfully completed some of its own projects including a credit card-sized computer called Raspberry Pi, a solar-powered cellphone charger prototype and a promotional street-legal derby car.
Whiteside built the creative car and raced it down Main Street during Rutherfordton's soapbox derby on July 4.
"I like building things, especially things I can drive — it takes me back to my childhood," he said.
In the near future, Fab Lab Rutherford hopes to complete a mobile Fab Lab housed in a 15-foot tractor trailer, which will visit schools and neighborhoods.
Whiteside also wants to work with home-schooled children and their parents to give them access to technology and materials at Fab Lab.
"Fab Lab's ultimate goal is to be a cornerstone in the community for innovation, creativity and cool things," Whiteside said. "We want people to learn and have access to high-tech learning. We want people in the community to feel Fab Lab is a part of them."