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This Time, Fraser

We just had a two-day Modular Robotics retreat in the mountains.  We skied on Wednesday at Winter Park, stayed in a big house in Fraser,

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Foo Camp 2013 & Local Manufacturing

By: Modular Robotics

I’ve been trying not to travel too much this Summer. There’s always a lot to do at Modbot, and in general I’ve tried to spend a little more time riding bikes in the forest and sharing dinners with friends instead of waiting in airports and hotels. I jumped at one interesting invitation, though, and went to Foo Camp in August. It’s been a few weeks and I think I’ve finally calmed down enough to reflect on it.

O’Reilly Media has been organizing and hosting Foo Camp each year since 2002 at its lovely little office/farm complex in Sebastopol, California. It’s a three day unconference: there’s no agenda and the attendees figure out what to do as they go along. O’Reilly invites about two hundred people and provides space, food, and drinks at the Foo Bar. The general idea is that putting a bunch of smart people together will probably result in interesting discussions and collaborations and O’Reilly probably hopes that some of these will result in new books or conferences.

Everyone camps! I pitched my little tent in the orchard.

There was a funny pervasive insecurity among new attendees; people wondered why they were there. During the second day, I started to figure things out. This year, attendees seemed to be working predominantly in three areas: synthetic biology, government hacking, and hardware. I fit pretty clearly into hardware and felt a little more comfortable, but the people making glow-in-the-dark plants kept me guessing.

Foo Camp was intense. Wake up in an orchard, expand your mind for 18 hours, pass out and repeat. It turns out that I can only handle about 12 intense, stimulating conversations in a row before I start to shut down so I made liberal use of the little forested paths in the area to spend a few minutes alone clearing my head. I could ramble here for quite some time about the events of the weekend, but I’ll try to give this a focus and just mention the Local Manufacturing session.

Sessions are set up on the first evening. We arrived, ate, and then milled around a series of huge whiteboards to try and decide what to do with the weekend. A grid of seven locations and 20 time slots provided for a total of 140 sessions, and the group filled them up in just a few minutes. I put up a session called “Local Manufacturing: Tech, Tools and Strategies for Making Stuff” for Sunday morning and hoped someone would show up.

The Local Manufacturing session. Dorky group shot for posterity.

Someone showed up! There’s Z Holly, founder of TEDx. And Mike from Otherfab, who makes the rad little PCB mill spun out of Otherlab. And Adam, one of the Makerbot founders. Nick, who makes hardware design tools, Angie who’s working with girls and code, Heather, who’s thinking about hardware at O’Reilly, Alex from the Media Lab whose little cardboard robots made 200 people laugh at the same time. Modbot hero Chris Anderson showed up!

I can’t really say that we accomplished anything aside from getting ourselves excited about USA manufacturing. We all told our manufacturing stories, I showed some pieces of FARKUS, our robot kit for factory automation, we talked about how valuable it is for designing (engineering) and making (manufacturing) to be colocated, and BAM!, time was up and we needed to head to a session in the Lemur tent for Luddites Working in Technology.

Thanks Tim and Sara and everyone.  I had a very nice time.


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