Maker space

Maker space

The University of Washington opened a new maker space available to all students and faculty in March 2015.

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Room to meet

Room to meet

The configurable, 4,000-square-foot space includes comfortable seating for socializing and talking through ideas.

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Maker space team

Maker space team

Mike Clarke runs the maker space with help from a team of undergraduates who bring skills from costume creation to 3-D printing to embedded programming.

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Print, cut

Print, cut

The space is equipped with five FlashForge Creator Pro 3D printers, as well as two laser cutters.

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Doodles

Doodles

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Hand tools

Hand tools

Tools and white boards are mounted on repurposed garment racks.

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Think, collaborate

Think, collaborate

Teams can work here and store project materials in the space.

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Scopes

Scopes

Oscilloscopes, function generators, voltage sources and other equipment for building and testing components.

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Sewing machines

Sewing machines

For the wearable part of wearable devices.

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Inspiration

Inspiration

The maker space also addresses a need for ad-hoc project space on campus.

Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Vikram Jandhyala

Vikram Jandhyala

UW's vice provost of innovation wants to bring the energy of the maker movement inside the university. Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

Jandhyala. Photo by Benjamin Romano / Xconomy

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a given invention turns into a huge money-maker—one of those black swan events. “We don’t want to see a Google come out and then not benefit from it as the UW, so that’s the reason for that kicker,” he says.

More broadly, Jandhyala says UW intellectual property policies—undergoing a broad review this year—must be more granular to reflect the different needs of different disciplines.

“We can’t have the same policy across the board,” he says. “Algorithms are very different from hardware coming out of a maker space, which is very different from deep biotech and drug design and pharma… We’ve treated them all the same in some sense, and now it’s time to differentiate.”

Contract engineering. Jandhyala says CoMotion is also working on normalizing certain contract arrangements between private companies and university units. For example, engineers from the UW’s Applied Physics Lab have spent thousands of hours working on a carbon-fiber hulled manned submersible for OceanGate. The company benefits tremendously from having this highly skilled, flexible contract engineering workforce. The open-ended contract engineering agreement was a first for APL.

“The industry connection is becoming more and more important, and that’s where we and the Office of Research (the administrative unit responsible for handling research contracts and grants) want to figure out best practices to reduce that level of anxiety or friction,” Jandhyala says. “You’re going to see some of these happening pretty quickly.”

Despite a long-term decline in public financial support, the UW remains a public university and is constrained by rules limiting the use of university resources for private benefit and preferential treatment of any one industrial partner.

“That’s what makes things more complex, but also very fair,” Jandhyala says. “So we’re trying to create that structure.”

Maker space. The 4,000-square foot maker space is outfitted with 3D-printers, sewing machines, laser cutters, soldering irons, electronic test equipment, hand tools, modular tables, white boards, and storage cabinets.

“More of our students want to learn what it is to innovate—not necessarily to do a startup, but at least to know what does it take to work in team and create a minimum viable product and have a market, and learn from that failure. Maker space is all about failure,” Jandhyala says. “It’s just a great place to do the messy creativity, which eventually leads to innovation—very early in the pipeline.”

He sees the CoMotion maker space as one node in a network across and beyond campus, including department-specific metal and woodworking shops, a maker space planned for one of the new dorms, and, possibly, another one in Startup Hall.

While the shops are often limited to students majoring in architecture or engineering, the maker space welcomes the entire UW community. “This is open to English majors,” he quips.

Eventually, Jandhyala would like to open it to the community at large.

Mentorship app. Jandhyala and three colleagues recently won a university grant to build a Web app designed to better connect undergraduates in need of mentorship with people in the innovation community.

These connections are made now through structured programs within CoMotion and other departments, but the approach doesn’t scale up to the university’s ambition of delivering entrepreneurship and innovation education and resources to everyone.

“If we have, let’s say, 7,000 people in the Rolodex and let’s say 10,000 students who want to meet them, how do we make that two-way connection between the mentor and the student at a time when the student needs it and at the time when the mentor is available?” Jandhyala says.

Jandhyala says the app will help make connections and coordinate schedules, and may include features such as a system that allows students and mentors to rate each other, privately. He says a working, scaled-out prototype should be available in the fall.

 

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