News / Ottawa

‘MakerSpace on wheels’ promotes engineering in schools

Co-ordinators of the University of Ottawa's brand new Make Mobile were showing off their van full of 3D printers, laser cutters and robotics equipment, on Monday. From left, mechanical engineering students Olivia Eddy and Justine Boudreau, Faculty of Engineering outreach manager Frank Bouchard and community co-ordinator Phil Chiasson show some of the projects they make with students.

Emma Jackson/Metro

Co-ordinators of the University of Ottawa's brand new Make Mobile were showing off their van full of 3D printers, laser cutters and robotics equipment, on Monday. From left, mechanical engineering students Olivia Eddy and Justine Boudreau, Faculty of Engineering outreach manager Frank Bouchard and community co-ordinator Phil Chiasson show some of the projects they make with students.

When the University of Ottawa’s Makermobile rolls up outside a local elementary school, it’s like the ice cream man has arrived – except instead of cold treats, the truck is hocking high-tech toys.

The red cube van is an extension of the university’s Makerspace program, which welcomes the public to experiment with 3D printers, laser cutters and robotics on campus.

But as the space’s popularity has grown, it was only natural to take the experience on the road, said Frank Bouchard, the engineering faculty’s outreach manager.

“The problem is the schools have to come to us,” he said. "That might not be possible for groups on the outskirts of the city who have to schedule and pay for a bus, or book the entire day of class to participate.

Now elementary and high school teachers can book half or full-day programs right on their own property, with a variety of workshops available: training robots to draw pictures, for example, or building models on a 3D printer. And everyone gets to laser-cut their own nametag.

“All in a day you can imagine, create and print out your design,” said community co-ordinator Phil Chiasson, who was giving tours of the van on campus this Monday. He had several projects on the go: a T-Rex bust in one printer and a school bus in another.

“We really want to get kids excited about engineering,” Bouchard said. “People think engineering is all about math, but it’s all about designing, about making things, and that’s how you get kids engaged.”

Already about 150 school workshops have been booked, and the Makermobile leaders are expanding to Scouts and Girl Guide groups, birthday parties, and private sessions.

For now, the van is borrowing equipment from the main Makerspace program. Co-ordinators have launched a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter to buy equipment special to the van. Bouchard said they’re hoping to raise $20,000.

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