Technology

DunkWorks Seeks To Promote Innovation In Marine Robotics

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Facilitating and accelerating failure is the underlying purpose of DunkWorks in Woods Hole, a collaborative facility for marine robotics technologists that will open for public membership in September.

DunkWorks is managed by the Center for Marine Robotics on behalf of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The creators of DunkWorks believe that failure is a necessary part of innovation, and thus aim to catalyze the process by helping innovators “fail quickly and fail cheaply.”

Playing off the “skunkworks” laboratory model, the makerspace provides the resources and coaching necessary for innovators to test their ideas.

Marine robotics center assistant director Leslie A. McGee gave a presentation on the center to the Falmouth Economic Development and Industrial Corporation Tuesday morning, August 8.

DunkWorks is located within a repurposed space on the WHOI dock, near other machine shops and automated underwater vehicle laboratories. Equipment currently includes a 3-D printer, laser cutter, resin-printer, virtual gaming technology, electrical mechanic working stations, automated mill, lathe, autonomous underwater vehicle station with an overhead crane and woodworking tools. A second-floor loft provides space for collaborative training.

However, the facility is only 60 percent spent, and the robotics center plans to further outfit the DunkWorks after assessing the needs and interests of its users.

The facility is staffed with a “guru” who provides assistance and training for the laboratory equipment, and helps innovators figure out how to tackle problems. DunkWorks will also offer additional workshops and training to its members.

In addition to developing technologies for the marine robotics industry, the WHOI center hopes that DunkWorks will also promote collaboration within the marine robotics community.

“What we’re trying to do is provide an environment for people to come in, get people out of their garages, out of their labs…and move it in here so we create a peer-to-peer environment, so folks can learn from each other,” Ms. McGee said.

In addition, individual technologists can save money by conducting some of the engineering work themselves, rather than paying an out-of-house engineering laboratory to complete the work.

Massachusetts Technology Collaborative funded the development of DunkWorks and other projects through a five-year $5 million “Robots to the Sea” grant to the robotics center in December 2014.

Ms. McGee said the state invests in marine robotics with the explicit intention that institutions in turn drive economic development. Ultimately, accelerated innovation at DunkWorks should also produce advancements in revenues, job creation, average wages, output and investment.

”Playing off the “skunkworks” laboratory model, the makerspace provides the resources and coaching necessary for innovators to test their ideas.”

The center plans to charge internal WHOI users a monthly $200 membership fee, and external users a monthly $500 membership fee, with a minimum six-month commitment. Although open to individuals outside WHOI, membership is limited to companies and research communities doing work related to marine robotics.

Initially the facility will be open from 8 AM to 4:30 PM, but the center hopes to eventually provide off-hours access.

“It’s a giant thinking and collaborative space, and sometimes that doesn’t happen between 8 and 4:30. Sometimes at midnight on a Saturday, you’re like, ‘Oh, my god, I have an idea, I want to go see whether this thing will work,’ ” Ms. McGee said.

The facility had a formal opening on July 31, with a ribbon-cutting by Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, but will not offer memberships to the public until September. It has been open to internal users in a “discovery period” for about two months.

The Falmouth EDIC invited Ms. McGee to speak as part of its ongoing series of presentations by members of the Falmouth business community.

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