Inside Georgia Tech Invention Studio

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Inside Georgia tech Invention Studio

The projects at innovation studio are unlike the projects we usually come across in corporate world.  Innovation studio at Georgia Tech is the place for cool projects ranging from making jet turbine wheels to robots. The Invention Studio is student-run design-build-play space open to all Georgia Tech students. William Harwood, President of Innovation Studio talks about the innovation process and culture inside the innovation studio.

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TechStorey:

What route does the successful products created at innovation studio take? Is there any commercial collaboration that takes place between invention studio & companies?

William Harwood:

The Invention Studio is a maker space that allows the Georgia Tech community to learn to fabricate and prototype using a variety of techniques from the ancient to the cutting edge. Our primary mission is to support the students enrolled in Georgia Tech’s Capstone Design course. This is the final course graduating students take that is meant to showcase the gamut of knowledge procured over the course of their undergraduate careers. In the past, a large majority of the projects produced for this course were highly theoretical. With the creation and expansion of Invention Studio, over 95% of students now produce a working prototype that often ends up in production. Typically, students will use the Studio’s resources to cut down on prototyping cost. The Studio has worked hard to lower the barrier of entry to different tools that have enormous costs outside of the subsidized institute environment. Most students use our rapid prototyping equipment to mock up production models. Students will then move on to CNC machining to produce stronger, more production ready components. We do not do the fabrication for the students; instead, we ensure they are operating our equipment safely. This ensures that the soft machining skills are developed. We’d like to think that students that graduate after being exposed to our space neither have the typical issues communicating with machinists nor the penchant for creating unmachinable parts in the virtual design environment. The culmination of the course see students gather to show off their projects at a large expo. Business show up to this event and usually end up acquiring IP or hiring talent outright.

TechStorey:

It is said a culture of freedom promotes innovation. What is the culture look like within innovation studio?

William Harwood:

Culture is a huge part of what makes the Invention Studio such a successful entity. I speak often about igniting “the spark.” In the fast paced world of Georgia Tech, when students are inspired to create, it is pivotal to give them the means to do so immediately. In many other university machine shops around the world, students are required to undergo arduous training that is often irregularly scheduled. In the Invention Studio, students can show up and use most of our equipment right then. We find that as soon as a students enters the Studio and prints something trivial on a 3D printer, it acts as a catalyst to encourage to students to use more in depth fabrication methods. We love for students to experience our waterjet or laser engraving and cutting machines. Students soon recognize the need for the large variety of fabrication methods that are available to them. The model of the Invention Studio relies on students teaching students. Our Prototyping Instructors are there to give guidance and keep users safe. They do not serve to be an authority and are highly approachable for questions and training. By maintaining this flat structure, we find that students are much more likely to approach our staff rather than blundering around a machine they do not know how to use (despite how easy it appears to be to operate).

TechStorey:

What is the model of learning? Is it to improve current systems through incremental innovation or explore new areas for radical innovations?

William Harwood:

IMG_2195The Invention Studio promotes learning through doing. It is common for students to come into our shop knowing nothing. Our learning model revolves around students empowered by their own desire to create or being forced into our doors by academic assignment. We find that in both instances, once a student is exposed to the space they return. We turn no students away. They are encouraged to stretch their limits. They are given the responsibility for their own safety. The Studio makes no prohibition on what is created. All of these facts empower students. At the end of the day, we encourage doing. Georgia Tech has a reputation for producing highly capable engineers. The Institute’s alumnus are incredibly gifted analytical thinkers and problem solvers. However, many complained of a lack of hands on training at the undergraduate level. The Invention Studio has changed that reputation. We are excited to be the model of engineering excellence for a number prominent universities and institutes around the nation. In a world where technical skills are becoming a daily requirement, the Invention Studio is the example by which learning institutes can create a better person.

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