At Cal Poly Pomona, the resources available to students are endless. One helpful resource to expand creativity is the iLab, where students can use free machinery to develop a product and brainstorm ideas for their creations.
“The coolest thing is to see what everyone comes up with in the iLab,” said Civil Engineering Professor Kenneth Lamb, who serves as the faculty director of the Student Innovation Idea Labs (SIIL). “These could be new inventions, creative works, or just silly products that put a smile on your face.”
The iLab, which is one of three spaces that are part of the SIIL, will move to a larger space within Building 1, across from the Center for Community Engagement on the first floor. The previous location in Building 98C is currently closed, and the new location is expected to open in late spring.
Third-year computer engineering student Dennis Lee, a SIIL student assistant, was inspired to create an ergonomic keyboard after growing tired from bringing a big full-size keyboard between home and school.
Lee noted that ergonomic keyboards are commonplace, but he wanted to build one from scratch to fit his own design preferences and to support different computer models.
Upon learning about the iLab’s existence, he started to develop his plan to build the keyboard and is currently building the product there using the prototyping station.
More Space, More Opportunities
In addition to housing machinery and equipment for students to use, the new iLab will feature meeting areas with moveable chairs and tables for teams to convene and collaborate on various projects. It also features laptop stations and a kitchenette.
The iLab will be in a more central location on campus, making it more convenient for students, faculty and staff to drop by.
“I have seen the concept renders and some of the renovation work done for the new iLab space, and it’s really exciting,” Lee said. “The old iLab was a relatively small room, and I think having the extra meeting space will really help people share brainwaves. With the combination of the iLab temporarily closing for the relocation, the return to in-person instruction, and a lot of new faces learning about the places, the Maker Studio (another SIIL lab space) has had to pick up the slack, and it has been absolutely packed. When the iLab has its grand reopening, it will be nice to be able to find a place to sit down again.”
The lab will include a prototyping station to transform 2D designs into stickers and design custom buttons. 3D printers are available for students to create their own models. In addition, there is a heat press, which uses heat to transfer vinyl to shirts, cloth bags or other flat surfaces.
Students can attend workshops and seminars to learn how to use different types of equipment. Training is also offered for those who want to learn how to start their own business.
Fostering Creativity and Innovation
The iLab opened in 2015 as a meeting space for students in the Entrepreneurship in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (ESTEAM) program to have access to resources such as 3D printers.
Over time, it grew to support creations from students of all majors, evolving into a space that encourages imagination and creation.
In addition to the iLab, there are two other spaces that are part of the SIIL: Innovation Orchard at Ganesha High School, which opened in 2018, and the Maker Studio on the second floor of the University Library, which opened in 2019.
Innovation Orchard and the Maker Studio have additional equipment, such as sewing machines, wood working, and metal working tools.
Lee said he also goes to those spaces to work on creating the keyboard.
“The biggest part of the project is making printed circuit boards, which are big sheets of fiberglass cut to shape with electronic components attached and connected with embedded wires,” he said. “After preparing the design files on my computer, I send them to a manufacturer to produce them. Then I use the 3D printer and laser cutter to make mechanical parts, and the vinyl cutter for protective backings.”
Once he finishes the prototype, Lee will develop a manufacturing plan and eventually sell the keyboard on his website, where he has been posting information about what he is creating. Lee shares that he posted a public interest check on the website and found that 75 respondents would like to purchase one.