Tom Lauwers | Entrepreneur and Roboticist

The Faber residency was wonderful, and I am very thankful for the opportunity provided to me by Olot and Catalonia. I am an enthusiastic early adopter of and contributor to Microblocks, a revolutionary technology that simplifies and democratizes the programming of microcontrollers. Seventeen years ago, as a third-year college student in computer engineering, I learned to write “firmware”, which is the program that runs on a microcontroller. Thirteen years ago, Arduino simplified this process, allowing dedicated hobbyists and artists without years of training in programming to program microcontrollers. Microblocks is the next step, as it will make it possible for anyone, even ten-year old children and their teachers, to program microcontrollers.

Faber provided the venue for me to work with the Microblocks team, and for four days we were able to do development work in person, thus rapidly making project improvements. The team behind Microblocks is made up of the John Maloney, the lead developer of Scratch (which has allowed millions of children to learn programming), Jens Mönig, the developer of Snap! (which extended a Scratch to allow more advanced use), and Bernat Romagosa, the developer of Snap4Arduino (which brought Snap! programming to microcontrollers). This extremely talented team is distributed all over the world – in Barcelona, Boston, Mannheim, and I am based in Pittsburgh. Although we can work on many things separately, the Faber residency brought us all together, accelerating the team’s progress and allowing us to confer on both strategy and development in real time.

The residency also coordinated well with local schools, leaders in the robotics education community such as Toni Moreno, and the Robolot conference. Through these partnerships we were able to show Microblocks to over 100 school children at three local schools, as well as provide workshops for sixty teachers and a keynote presentation of Microblocks at Robolot.

Finally, the residency’s well-structured and extremely generous meals allowed us to share conversations and ideas with the other fellows. I enjoyed learning about electronic artist Ana’s work analyzing Time magazine, and Selçuk’s upcoming Ph.D thesis on open design principles. I also got to know Jens’ partner in crime at SAP, Jadga, and members of Barcelona’s thriving educational electronics community, such as Joan and Josep.  

I absolutely loved the residency program at Faber and hope to someday return to beautiful Olot; from the bottom of my heart, thank you for creating this very special place.