Research Technology and Innovation still designing and prototyping despite restrictions

November 13, 2020

As different parts of campus continue to adjust to fully virtual workspaces, departments have been forced to get creative on how to continue to engage students and the Brandeis community. And while the library is currently open to patrons at a reduced capacity, the Research Technology and Innovation (RTI) department of the library has re-imagined its spaces to allow students, staff and faculty to continue to use them, whether in-person or virtually, Director for RTI Ian Roy ’05 (IBS/ANTH) told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview.

“We would love to have Brandeis keep making,” Roy told The Hoot. “Focus more on how the things work in this virtual environment. We want people to work on projects of more personal significance. Make something that will help someone you care about.” 

The three main workspaces within RTI are the MakerLab, Automation Lab and Digital Scholarship Lab. An additional machine room was opened in November 2020 to provide additional workspaces. Because of restrictions set by the library, the MakerLab, Automation Lab and Digital Scholarship are available for individuals to book one at a time with a 48-hour advanced notice, according to Roy. 

Due to the new restrictions, any work that is done at any of the labs under RTI must be academic-related. Members of the Brandeis community that may have been interested in using the lab can still reach out to the MakerLab and they are able to connect you with other services that can provide similar services to the MakerLab. 

“Traditionally in the MakerLab, patrons own their own workflow,” Roy explained. “It’s up to you to book a machine and a human [to help]. You have to show up and run the machine.” With the new guidelines, the MakerLab has had to adjust and now offers fabrication as a service, including 3D printing and lasercutting for projects in case an individual is unable to make it to the lab. 

Roy explained that a lot of projects will take longer to complete than in the past. Projects that used to take one hour in person now take three to four hours. “We’re really outcome-focused,” Roy explained. “We’re working in an ‘outside the box’ way, a custom way and we’re building custom things. We need to have patience with certain things.”

Members of the Brandeis community are also able to virtually connect to eight remote desktops to use machines that have higher horsepower to run programs that personal computers may not be adept to handle. RTI is also loaning out equipment to individuals that prefer to work within the comfort of their own spaces, rather than in the lab. Equipment can be picked up through curbside pickup, contact-free pick up through the lockers in Usdan or mailed for individuals not on campus, according to Roy. 

“We can’t wait to have you back,” he said. “We are super more productive when you’re on campus. The magic of design is when design meets community and I can’t wait until we have in-person things again.”

RTI is split into four main pillars: teaching and learning, research technology, hackathons and events and outreach. Teaching and learning is accomplished through lectures on various emerging technologies, weekly trainings and workshops that are available to all students, faculty and staff. Research technology focuses on “prototyping physical objects and new workflows, digitization and digital fabrication,” Roy explained. RTI also hosts various events throughout the school year, including a 24-hour hackathon and other programming and prototyping challenges, speaker series and selectively sponsored maker-in-resident projects. Outreach is conducted through various talks with professionals, tours of the spaces and a general building of community.

Members of the Brandeis community that work with RTI have access to an array of different equipment for digital fabrication, tools that are able to physicalize the digital world through 3D printers and laser cutters, digitization and 3D scanning to help digitize the real world through 3D scanning and virtual and augmented reality using both hardware and software like various touch, gesture and multiscreen environments to simulate reality.

Requests can be made to makerlab@brandeis.edu and must have an academic or research justification. 

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