iSpace Fosters Big Ideas
From a small room can come very large ideas. Mix in some high-end tech services and a wide variety of geniuses, and the chances for innovation are all the better. This is the notion fueling the iSpace, a newly realized collaborative working environment at the University of Arizona Science and Engineering Library.
Designed to provide cross-disciplinary interaction, the iSpace is the result of a collaboration among Innovate UA, the College of Humanities, and the UA Libraries. It had a “soft opening” in the spring of 2015 as the first pan-campus collaborative working environment and makerspace at the University, and officially opened in August.
Located on the main floor in the Science and Engineering Library, the iSpace not only fosters but is itself a product of intense collaboration. It was collaboratively funded by the three major partners, is collaboratively staffed by tech-savvy librarians, graduate and undergraduate students, and collaboratively outfitted with equipment and materials through a disciplinarily diverse advisory board. “Everybody who is involved in this space has a passion for it. They understand what it’s about and its potential,” says Joseph Myers, a member of the iSpace’s leadership team.
The iSpace is similar to the collaborative work spaces that have been appearing locally such as Connect CoWorking, spoke6, CoLab Workspace, and Xerocraft. It is essentially a multi-functional and highly flexible open office space equipped with monitors, computers, basic office essentials, sleek communal tables, massive wall boards, 3D printing and scanning, motion capture instruments, open source microcontroller kits, a soldering station, and usability and play testing lab. Users can access these tools to realize their ideas, prototype new answers to pressing questions, and learn new skills.
“Innovative ideas can come in the form of anything from a physical product to a conventional essay. Whatever inquiries go into the innovation process, we want to be able to have those questions asked and answered here,” said Myers. “If you’re interested in engineering or if you're interested in architecture or art, design, we can steer you to the people we have really strong relationships with and who can help you do your work better.”
Besides superb networking opportunities, services at iSpace include virtual reality—specifically, Oculus Rift Development Kit 2’s or, DK2’s, the latest in Oculus Rift tech—and a class involvement package called littleBits, “a low barrier, user-friendly, rapid prototyping,” says Brandon Minaya, another iSpace leader. Equipped with motors and sensors, littleBit allows people who are developing ideas to realize a minimal viable product for initial troubleshooting.
Since the spring, iSpace has facilitated two major projects. The first, Focused Associational Thinking in Virtual Reality, funded through a UA Innovative Learning Project Catalyst Grant, teaches students to improve their associative thinking skills using Google Cardboard DODOcases, which are low cost viewers for virtual reality environments. “It’s going to help them with the brainstorming process, the invention process,” said Maggie Melo, an iSpace leader. “If you have writer's block, hopefully you can jump into a virtual reality environment and it can help spur what you’re trying to write.” At right, English Department professor Ken McAllister and grad teaching assistants Jose Cortez, Elizabeth Bentley, and Cate Chaterdon, experiment with DODOcases with Maggie Melo (center). Currently, this project is being employed in English 109 courses.
The other project, from the Africana Studies Department with Dr. Praise Zenenga and Dr. Bryan Carter, uses Xbox 360 Kinect sensors with PC adaptors to motion capture traditional African dance.
The iSpace will soon be offering workshops for 3D Printing, Raspberry Pis, introductory Python programming, entrepreneurship for tech majors, and hands-on skills like bookbinding, fabric arts, and soldering. Says Minaya, “It’s not necessarily a high tech space, it’s just a maker space that happens to include high tech equipment.”
With community mindfulness at its core, the iSpace promotes sustainability, collaboration, openness, and accessibility. As the nature of work in the current marketplace is increasingly isolated, with individuals communicating with peers via a computer interface, co-working reinforces the ability to network, discover, and collaborate with like-minded individuals in real time.
Currently open to UA students, faculty, staff, and affiliates, the iSpace is laying the foundation for a future expansion in which it will be open to the community. A big idea with a lot of potential, the iSpace is realizing its goals by practicing the exact skill it trumpets: transdisciplinary collaboration. To get involved, or for inquiries, visit their webpage or email email@example.com.