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MakerLab Lets Tinkerers Innovate, Collaborate, and Create

October 19, 2015

Maker Lab Tire Toss

MakerLab’s Tim Balz tosses a SPEV tire, pit crew-style, to Stephen Misak.

Nobody thinks it’s fun to pull an all-nighter to cram for an exam. But fun is exactly the reason a group of students in the MakerLab club worked all night during a recent marathon building session. The result of their 15-hour binge build is the Single Person Electric Vehicle—a.k.a. the SPEV. Pieced together from an assortment of spare parts, along with a couple of custom-designed pieces, the vehicle is a Frankenstein of cast-off remnants from past projects, and new ideas. 

MakerLab allows students the opportunity to innovate, create, and collaborate on projects of their choosing. In addition to the SPEV, the MakerLab space in the Branam Innovation Center is home to an assortment of devices from a tiny drone to a kit-built 3-D printer.

As an engineering physics major, most of Stephen Misak’s hands-on projects have involved working in a clean room or optics lab. But when the Carmel, Indiana, native saw an opportunity to get his hands dirty and learn a little about mechanical design through MakerLab and the SPEV project, he jumped at it.

Now he’s finally getting the chance to design and build--just for the fun of it. It’s something that he says he wishes he’d had more opportunity to do in high school.  Misak designed the original sprockets for the SPEV’s drivetrain, which were then waterjet cut at Rose-Hulman Ventures.

But on a recent afternoon, he and co-creators Chris Budo and Tim Balz were in the process of reassembling the vehicle after making some improvements, including the installation of a new set of sprockets.

“It was really fast with the old gear ratio but it wasn’t so great on the hills,” Misak explains. His modified sprocket design included changes to improve torque.

Budo, a software engineering major, says that the process of designing, building, and refining the design has given the group an opportunity to gain more practical hands-on skills, and a better understanding of how to make something that works well.

Maker Lab Chris Budo

Chris Budo lends a hand, steadying the SPEV on its side as the team makes adjustments.

“It’s definitely a learning experience. I’ve always loved to build but never had any serious engineering projects. There were a lot of tools that we’ve used on this project that I’ve never used before,” Budo adds.

Mechanical engineering major Tim Balz serves as the de facto leader of the SPEV group, and was one of the founders of the MakerLab club. Though he’d always enjoyed tinkering, Balz wasn’t focused on academics until his sophomore year of high school, when a teacher encouraged him to help start a FIRST Robotics team.

It was through that teacher’s mentorship that he saw his own potential. And that type of encouragement and inspiration is what he hopes others will find through MakerLab projects.

“They’re all finding their own passions through their work and that’s what my teacher did for me,” Balz says. “With MakerLab, you can make your own path, do your own thing, do it your own way.”