Sunday, April 7, 2013

On Publicity

As I mentioned in the Hello World post, I volunteer as an Undergraduate Lab Instructor at the Georgia Tech Invention Studio.  Recently, we had a video made to give a better picture of what the Studio is, what its mission is, and how it operates:

In essence, it's very similar in its general purpose as a hackerspace but geared toward the kind of curricular and extracurricular projects you'd expect to find at a top-ranked engineering school.  This year we've fleshed out our space to a total of five rooms, which each has its own specialized purpose:

  1. The Waterjet Room - As its name suggests it's the room that houses our OMAX waterjet cutter, probably the crown-jewel piece of equipment the Studio operates.  It also houses our three Trotek laser cutters and much of our equipment for doing light metal work.  Previously it contained tools for wood working, but to extend the longevity of our other tools by reducing dust those have now been isolated to....
  2. The Woodworking Room - Previously this was our command center called 'The LaserLounge', containing a single 40 watt Trotek laser cutter and our electrical equipment, with a single large table for general assembly work, a small couch and two armchairs from Ikea.  Now it contains all of our hand tools, and just about every piece of equipment we possess capable of being used on wood.  With the recent addition of a 4'x8' CNC router it's starting to get a bit cramped, but our tetris skills have thus far kept the room sufficiently open to ensure safety requirements are met.
  3. The ElectroLounge - The new command center and home to all of our electrical equipment - and the aforementioned Ikea furniture - plus a motley assortment of 3D Printers.  Before we moved in we had the space renovated to improve visibility and to allow us to more easily monitor the surrounding space, including the Woodworking room.  It is currently the easiest room to find thanks to a gigantic, student-made LED backlit aluminum sign installed over the main entrance doors.
  4. The Digital Design Room - This used to be one of two well-worn computer labs on this side of the building, containing somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-20 workstations.  After expanding into the space, we've reduced that number to four dual-screen workstations with some expanded capabilities: three of them are equipped with MakerBot Replicator 2's, and the fourth is equipped with our vinyl cutter and 3D Scanning equipment.  The rest of the space is currently set up for group work with three long butcher block tables, which have been popular with Senior Design teams.  A final addition of equipment to the room will be a suite of Lulzbot AO-101 printers, set up as the first Central 3D Printing Service at any university in the US.  Setting up this room's equipment has been one of my personal goals, and should serve the Georgia Tech community for many years to come.
  5. The Machining Room - Some of us call this room 'the Danger Zone' in jest, as it contains what are considered our most dangerous and complex tools: mills and lathes, of the manual and CNC variety.  As such the room is not regularly opened except to individuals who have been properly trained to use the equipment, and when in use the person using a machine is always accompanied by at least one Undergraduate Lab Instructor.  The room also contains some other equipment including a vacuum former, a small injection molding machine, a set of abrasive tumblers, a motley assortment of light prototyping tools and resin casting equipment.
What most people don't realize about the Invention Studio is that it is entirely staffed and operated by student volunteers.  That's right, there is no head machinist in charge of these spaces; the only faculty and staff involved act in a support capacity, primarily as interfaces with the rest of the school.  This is the first such space of its kind at any university in the US, and possibly anywhere in the world.  As such, great care is taken by the Undergraduate Lab Instructors to ensure the space remains safe and functional, and that new Undergraduate Lab Instructors who are selected are able to maintain the same high standards.  This has truly been the key to the Studio's success, allowing it to grow rapidly and yet remain flexible to the changing needs of the entire student body.

However, up until the publication of that video it's been a bit of an up-hill battle for the Invention Studio to be noticed by the public at large.  That changed in a big way when Dale Dougherty, founding editor & publisher of Make magazine, wrote this post.  Here's to hoping for more of the same in the near future!

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