Beaver Works celebrates the "Maker" spirit

On 4 October, when MIT held its first Mini Maker Faire at the North Court on the Cambridge campus, MIT Lincoln Laboratory Beaver Works was there to showcase some of the unique systems engineered by students enrolled in School of Engineering capstone courses or MIT's Independent Activities Period (IAP) classes. The Beaver Works mission to foster collaboration and innovation through project-based learning emphasizes hands-on "making" of prototypes.

Maker Faires are all about sharing ideas—through exhibits, interactive demonstrations, hands-on workshops, and conversations. They feature a wide range of skills and crafts, with high-tech innovations such as robotic devices sharing the limelight with traditional artisanry such as woodworking. At MIT, not surprisingly, many exhibits focused on technology and inventions, and several of the 110 exhibitors showed off products they had fabricated using 3D printers.

Maker Faires have become hugely popular. In 2013, Maker Faires in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City drew 195,000 attendees interested in skills collectively called "making." The first Maker Faire, held in 2006 in the Bay Area, was organized by Make magazine publisher Maker Media as an outlet for do-it-yourselfers and craftspeople to display their creations. Since then, Maker Faires of varying sizes have sprung up in almost every U.S. state and European nation, as well as a few Asian countries and Australia.

The energy system developed by students can be seen inside the autonomous underwater vehicle. Nick Pulsone, left, discusses the system with a Mini Maker Faire volunteer.The energy system developed by students can be seen inside the autonomous underwater vehicle. Nick Pulsone, left, discusses the system with a Mini Maker Faire volunteer.

At MIT's Mini Maker Faire, Beaver Works exhibited the autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) for which students in multiple semesters of the Mechanical Engineering Department's Engineering System Design courses developed a recharging system for the internal combustion engine system. Under the guidance of Prof. Doug Hart and Lincoln Laboratory senior staff member Nick Pulsone and his colleagues, students tackled the real-world challenge of providing an AUV with a cost-effective, compact power source that allows the AUV to operate for 30 days.

"I was amazed at how many people visited the Beaver Works booth and asked great questions about the energy system for the AUV," says Pulsone. "I talked to a wide range of people—young, old, technical, and nontechnical. I was really impressed with the interest of younger attendees from local area high schools and middle schools."

A longstanding Beaver Works collaboration has been the partnership between Lincoln Laboratory and the MIT Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (MIT Aero/Astro). Since 2009, students from MIT Aero/Astro have designed, built, and flight-tested prototype unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). At the Maker Faire, one of these, the Flexible Aircraft System Testbed (FAST), was on display, and Libby Jones, a graduate student from MIT Aero/Astro, fielded visitors' questions on FAST.

MIT graduate student Libby Jones describes the composite used in the wings of the Flexible Aircraft System Testbed.MIT graduate student Libby Jones describes the composite used in the wings of the Flexible Aircraft System Testbed.

Also at the Beaver Works booth, Shakti Davis, one of the Lincoln Laboratory instructors of the IAP course on building a small radar system, was on hand to demonstrate the system constructed from common commercial components. In fact, the first class of radar builders in 2011 used coffee cans as the transmit and receive antennas. The dynamic Doppler images created by these small radars not only attracted visitors to the booth, but also prompted many discussions about the capabilities of the systems.

The Beaver Works booth drew many MIT students.As one of the most technology-driven exhibits at the Mini Maker Faire, the Beaver Works booth drew many MIT students. Here Laboratory staff member Raoul Ouedraogo (far right) explains the Doppler images acquired by small radars built by students of an MIT Independent Activities Period course.

Volunteers at the Beaver Works booth, which saw approximately 1000 visitors during the day, explained not only the projects on display but also the opportunities available for collaborations between the campus and Lincoln Laboratory. "The Maker Faire provided good exposure for Beaver Works within the MIT community. Many of the visitors were MIT staff and students, and most were unaware of what goes on at Beaver Works," says the manager at the new Beaver Works center. "Other attendees were families with school age children, and the interest that these young folks displayed, and the exposure to so many different ideas, will help drive future innovation and 'making.'"

Entrance to Beaver WorksDuring the MIT Mini Maker Faire, the Beaver Works center (entrance above) was opened for two tours that introduced people to the equipment and spaces used by students for collaborative "build" projects.

In conjunction with the Faire, volunteers led two tours of the center just off campus at 300 Technology Square, introducing both the MIT and local communities to a resource that can be utilized for diverse projects and programs.

In addition to the people mentioned already, several volunteers assured that the Beaver Works booth was staffed and well equipped: Jarred Barber, Joseph Edwards, Lisa Kelley, Todd Levy, and John Meklenburg from the Laboratory’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance and Tactical Systems Division; Jen King Jao from the Air and Missile Defense Technology Division; Raoul Ouedraogo and Eric Phelps of the Aerospace Division; and MIT students Athanasios Athanassiadis, Dan Dorsch, and Tony Tao.

Posted November 2014


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