Saul Griffith: “Design Tools for Engineering for Both Big and Little Kids”

thumbnailSaul Griffith will be talking about Otherlab’s collaborative MENTOR project, the history and and inspiration behind it as well as a the hypothetical future. He draws on his experiences during childhood to explain how his current project has come about:

I had a great childhood. I didn’t like school, but I do think it served me well. I went to public schools in Sydney for my whole life. The last was Sydney Technical High School which had a “Industrial Arts” department, probably known here as shop class. My favorite classes were Art, Industrial Arts (It was known as Engineering Science as a subject), and Physics. The classes were project based and tangible. They were like the things I enjoyed learning from at home – things I could make and do and feel. All of this led me to study engineering and science subjects culminating in a PhD from MIT’s Media Laboratory. Even at MIT the only classes I enjoyed were the project based classes which were largely self directed and required learning the science and math you needed to know as you needed to know it in order to finish a project.

I’ve been championing this type of learning ever since, in projects like www.howtoons.com where we teach hands on skills to 8-12 year olds, and in my column writings for Make magazine.

When the original RFP for MENTOR came out from DARPA I was extremely excited (though I didn’t think that we had much chance of winning the contract). It is a worthy experiment in engaging more students in hands-on learning that supports building an intuition for STEM (even STEAM) subjects.

I see a future that is already here where most engineering becomes about the design and the automated manufacture of things with CNC. This could be called `digital manufacturing’, ‘CAD/CAM/CNC’, ‘Advanced Manufacturing’, or any number of things, the reality is that it is exciting and it is happening and there will be more computation in engineering and design and more robotics in prototyping and fabrication and manufacturing. Let’s teach these things in an engaging way, but not only that, let’s use these robots and design tools in classrooms to support the teaching of every subject in schools. Physical examples to demonstrate all of the schools activities, much the way the xerox machine or photocopier became such a utility tool for teachers preparing class activities.

Saul Griffith is the Founder / Principal Scientist at Other Lab, where he focuses his work on engineering solutions for energy production and energy efficiency. He has multiple degrees in materials science and mechanical engineering and completed his PhD in Programmable Assembly and Self Replicating machines at MIT. He is founder or co-founder of numerous companies, including Optiopia, Squid Labs, Potenco, Instructables.com, Howtoons and Makani Power. Saul has been awarded numerous awards for invention and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2007. In 2011 Saul was named a World Economic Forum ‘Young Global Leader’. Saul holds multiple patents and patents pending in textiles, optics, nanotechnology, robotics, energy production, manufacturing and smart geometry. Saul co-authors ‘Howtoons’ with Nick and Ingrid Dragotta – a children’s comic book series about building your own science and engineering gadgets. Saul is a technical advisor to Make magazine and Popular Mechanics, and sits on various advisory boards including Duke Energy and the San Francisco 100% Renewable Energy Taskforce. He rarely wears shoes, is typically found knee-deep in machinery with fists full of tools, and has holes in most of his pockets.