Medellín’s new Exploratorio is what most would call a “makerspace.” Located in the city’s large Parque Explora complex, it bills self as a welcoming location where craftsmen, engineers, hobbyists, artists, and students can come to hone their skills for creation and innovation.
This public workshop features an array of machines and tools — and lots of space — for people to turn their ideas into reality. From 3D printing and laser engraving to woodworking and robotics fabrication materials, it has enough options to keep anyone busy building to their heart’s content. No matter the medium, the space is bringing together like-minded members of the community to share their ideas and practice creative techniques.
To learn more about Exploratorio, Finance Colombia Executive Editor Loren Moss recently sat down with Camilo Cantor and Carlos Hamilton, two experts with the workshop.
Finance Colombia: What is Exploratorio? What can people they do here? What is its purpose?
Camilo Cantor: Really, people can come to do several things. This is a space that first and foremost seeks to serve as a meeting point. Everybody is always all alone with their knowledge normally. This is a place to share: to share knowledge, to share it by meeting up, so people can come to develop their projects. They can come in to put their concerns and problems on the table.
There is no curriculum here. We are not a college or a university. We don’t teach things, although that doesn’t mean it’s not a place for learning.
Finance Colombia: In the United States it’s well known that many companies are set up in their owner’s garages. HP, Apple — they were literally invented in people’s garages. But here few people have a garage. So it seems to me like a public garage.
Camilo Cantor: Yes, it’s like grandpa’s garage — but for the city. People can come here to develop their projects and their ideas or simply to experiment. This is the central workshop.
What we did was try to get away from the existing laboratory models. So it has a fab lab, makerspace, and several lab models are all together. This is a creation and meeting laboratory.
It’s equipped for electronics, robotics, woodwork, and general construction. As you see, there they’re building a launchpad for rockets. It’s a place where we can move around, and for example, they hold talks, conferences, and concerts.
Finance Colombia: How long has Exploratorio been in existence?
Camilo Cantor: It’s new. As a building, it’s two months old. But as a project, it’s two years old.
Finance Colombia: OK. So it’s been under development. And what is the concept behind the need to create an exploratory lab?
Camilo Cantor: Well, we’re located in the northern part of Medellín. At the beginning, some time ago, it was quite a problem zone because of its location. One of the objectives was to recuperate the northern area so that people would come here. Because before it used to be a bit of a problem zone.
All of this area is now called the Innovation District. And Explora Park wanted to be part of that, and they held initiation workshops in technology — neighborhood meetings — so that they wouldn’t feel that this space was alien to their day-to-day life as a neighborhood.
Finance Colombia: So as not to put something into a neighborhood that has no connection with the neighborhood?
Camilo Cantor: Right. So thanks to that, we set out on the first project called “Expanded Territory,” which was a project where we made labs for technology, communication, and electronics in the territories of Medellín.
We have the ability to reach out to each of the territories. After that, thanks to the support of the Secretariat of Economic Development of Medellín, Explora Park accepted the challenge to create a space like this.
Actually, Medellín already has these types of spaces in a few educational institutions. It has spaces in the “fab lab” at the National University of Colombia. Pontifical Bolivarian University also has a big fab lab, a textile laboratory. SENA, the National Service of Learning for Colombia, also has its laboratories, but you have to be registered.
Finance Colombia: Exactly. As a student or teacher or something related.
Camilo Cantor: Right. You have to be registered to be able to make use of the installed capacity that those institutions offer. So the park undertook to create an equipped experimental laboratory for the territories — for the common people.
That’s how they started out to create this space as a chance for people to come and make things. So while it is a space that only has been in operation for a little over two months, we have been working on it for two and a half years.
Finance Colombia: So who can actually use it? As in, what are the requirements and how do you get registered?
Camilo Cantor: Everyone can use it. It can be used in several ways. You can use it to give an open workshop. You can use it to present a project. Or you can use the 3D printer.
It’s not just that I come in and ask for the machine and start making something. The question is: Well, if it’s something commercial, what impact does it have? What social impact does it have? Are you going to teach others to make these boxes or whatever it is you’re making?
There are different models of participation. If the answer is, “I came because I need to make something commercial quickly.” Well, then there is a rate.
Finance Colombia: Because it’s something commercial, it’s not like I’m experimenting? I’m not doing a project for my high school, for example. So, if a citizen — someone who lives here in Medellín, a resident — has a project and wants use the services here, what is the procedure that has to follow, or that he should follow?
Camilo Cantor: He has to fill out a form, and we look at it and see what it’s about. Recently, a company came and seemed like the perfect place to work.
But then we ask: For how long? What does the project entail? What do you want to make? What do you require? What are you going to leave for us?
Finance Colombia: Do you offer, or are you going to offer, programs or training for the public?
Carlos Hamilton: There is an experimental activity that we want to do. We’re piloting some very small activities. One is a “rocket launcher.” The idea is that you take a bottle and use compressed air.
The idea is that we can re-use a lot of garbage that we have around the place. We can make a rocket out of a bottle, make the flaps for it, and fill it halfway full of water with a pump. And then you just put it in the launcher.
Finance Colombia: I remember I had one like that as a kid — one that you filled halfway with water.
Carlos Hamilton: Exactly. It’s the same thing. So, one of the illusions that come out of those very small activities is that people can feel that they have the ability to repeat it outside. And that’s also a part of the need for this kind of space.
We want the things that we do here to be repeated in other places. Not necessarily the structure, but the methodology and the ways to share.
Finance Colombia: And it’s practical, because once you get used to doing it, you will innovate from your own mind.
Carlos Hamilton: Exactly. Make it your own. Making the knowledge and the activities and everything you own. That’s what we want to happen here.