Meet Malta’s Tech Gurus: Steve DeMicoli, Founder of dfab.studio

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Steve Demicoli Featured image

Steve DeMicoli is a doting husband and proud father of three children. Professionally, he is a practising architect and director at DeMicoli & Associates, founder of dfab.studio and director of Open Tinkers. Here he talks to Gadgets about the future of robotics, disruptive ideas and the keystone to empowering future generations.

You’re currently reading for a PhD at the Institute for Computational Design and Construction in Integrated Computational Design and Digital Fabrication. How did you develop an interest in such a niche area of architecture?

Well, on a light note, the intrigue for disruptive ideas probably germinated back in my teens when all I wanted to do was play music and become a rockstar! My parents had a way of channelling my rebellious nature into a positive force and encouraged an interest in learning. My fascination for Integrated Computational Design originated from my student days in London. I was lucky enough to be introduced into this field of architecture just as it was emerging in the early years after the millennium. The university I attended had some extraordinary tutors with tremendous foresight and intellect, and instilled a passion for the subject.

My studies in this field have led me to learn that technology has become so readily available that civilization has reached a turning point where individuals can create anything they need. For architects, this is a great opportunity since digital workflows open a greater set of tools. Not only can an architect use the computer to visualize a design but can also compute a form, embed material properties into the process of finding the form, and finally program or teach a machine to accurately make it. My interest lies in the way in which these technologies can be used in regional territories such as Malta, which is geographically disconnected from a mainland. The disconnection provides a very distinctive set of possibilities that force an architect to think frugally and sympathetically to environmental and economic considerations. Malta, in a sense, is a perfect petri dish to understand global problems on a smaller scale.

In 2015 you established Open Tinkers – a platform for STEM education, local makers and DIY enthusiasts. What motivated you to set-up this business?

open tinkers

Open Tinkers was set-up to provide a roadmap for parents, teachers, schools and hobbyists to empower and prepare a strong future generation by giving the right tools. In an age where data, knowledge and hardware are available at a touch of a button, intellect becomes the most crucial quality an individual can possess. By intellect, I refer to the ability to comprehend, evaluate, analyze and synthesize one’s environment – skills that can be acquired if children are given the right tools from the onset.

At Open Tinkers, we curate a range of kits, projects, toys and tools which we believe benefit the user by promoting creativity and curiosity. Our mission is to bestow the joy of learning and to empower people of all ages to create new ideas. Everyone has an inner artist, scientist and engineer, and we want to bring them to the surface. This we believe is how we will leave the world a better place – by teaching our children to think and by giving them the tools to materialize their ideas.

Do you believe that robotics and coding are picking up locally?

From my humble perspective, I believe awareness is picking up – robotics is entering the school syllabus which is encouraging. There are many other ways of making a subject like robotics more accessible by providing resources in early school years. It is also important that such complex subjects do not remain isolated as a standalone, but are integrated with other subjects and play time.

Do you have any projects lined up for Open Tinkers?

This year we will open our makerspace to the public. It will be like a modern library where instead of books, people have access to a specific range of machines which will allow them to make almost anything. We will also have live demonstrations at our Open Tinkers shop in Spinola Park, St Julians.

What activities can locals participate in to get more involved in technological tools?

Robotics

The makerspace will be an excellent starting point! Walt Disney put it best when he said: “The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

What advice can you give our readers who have an interest in using tech tools?

This is a two-step process, the first is searching for the right resource and building knowledge – many resources can be found online, even on YouTube, and the second is making your learning process a habit.

What is the gadget you can’t live without?

Apart from my smartphone, a few years ago I upgraded my tablet to a small laptop which makes me more productive and gives me the flexibility of working on the move. I also make use of software tools such as ToDoist which allows me to keep track of tasks and recently we moved our servers onto a cloud which has been life-changing.

What’s your most embarrassing tech moment?

Back in my student days, I went to an apple store to get a new battery for my laptop and when it was opened, the hardware was full of mould! I remembered that about a year before, I had spilt my cup of tea onto the keyboard!

The technician couldn’t believe how it was still working – sometimes I guess a bit of divine intervention is needed in this world of bits and atoms!

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