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MIT Launches App To Bolster Campus Maker Community

Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) now have a new mobile app, Mobius, designed to help them navigate the various maker resources available to them on campus.

MIT has more than 130,000 square feet available to makers — more than anywhere else in the world, according to information released by the school. "Yet, according to findings from a student-wide survey conducted last summer, the top two places where MIT students make things are in their dorm rooms and off-campus," according to a news release. "The reason? Students face too many barriers when trying to use MIT's expansive maker infrastructure."

Rebecca Li, one of the app's designers and a student majoring in mechanical engineering, said in a prepared statement that students often must "hijack a club or lab's machine shop access, pay many different membership fees or stumble into little known shops like MITERS [MIT Electronics Research Society] and Maker Works."

"If you are not involved in some builder club, lab, or group, you are unlikely to hear about all of the shops or what you have the ability to access," she added.

"There are reasons why students have difficulty getting into these spaces," said Marty Culpepper, "maker czar" at MIT and professor of mechanical engineering who also helped to develop the app, in a prepared statement. "One barrier is knowing where everything is. Another is, how do you get trained, whom do you contact to get trained and once you've been trained, do other shops know you've got that skill set? How do you pay for things if you need to pay for them? All of these things stacked on top of each other make it very difficult not only for students to get things done, but for faculty and their research to get done."

Currently available as an iOS app with an Android version on the way, Mobius was developed in partnership with students, alumni, shop managers and MIT's Information Systems and Technology office. The app aims to match users with resources while assisting technical staff with shop management and improving student communication and interaction. Users will be able to pay for materials, machine time and other fees through the app and an endorsement and flagging system will allow students to transfer skills from one space to another more easily. Eventually, the app will also include the ability for users wo rate their experiences and offer tips and advice for other makers.

"Many of the incoming students, including myself long ago, never had exposure to or training on machine tools, rapid prototyping equipment or instrumentation," said Aaron Ramirez, PhD student and another designer of the app, in a prepared statement. "These tools are essential for engineering and for obtaining and improving your skills as an engineer — it's not just a hobby for us, it's our life and passion, and necessary for our development."

Mobius is part of a larger effort launched in October, dubbed Project Manus, to improve makerspaces and strengthen the maker community on campus.

"Today marks a very important first step in a journey to provide our community with seamless access to the vast maker resources on our campus, and to bring greater coordination of all these resources," said Martin Schmidt, MIT provost, in a prepared statement. "In Mobius, and the other elements of Project Manus, Professor Culpepper has provided us with an exciting vision for the future and a roadmap to get there. I am grateful to Professor Culpepper and the MIT Innovation Initiative for advancing this critical effort to strengthen our innovation ecosystem."

About the Author

Joshua Bolkan is contributing editor for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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