Mobile lab brings high-tech opportunities to rural communities

What appears to be a jazzed up metallic trailer on wheels holds the power to innovate, design and create ideas of tomorrow – and it will soon be rolling through communities across New Mexico.

The Mobile Makers Lab Express will allow capabilities of the UNM School of Architecture and Planning (SA&P) Fabrication Lab to be more accessible to rural and underserved communities in New Mexico. The 30-foot long trailer houses 3D printers, laser cutters and CNC mills (think a 3D printer that builds by removing material instead of creating material).

“These are all immersive technologies that are driving the future of our society,” said Tim Castillo, associate dean of Research at SA&P.

The Mobile Makers Lab Express is a collaborative effort between UNM, the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL) and New Mexico Tech (NMT). It’s intended to bring STEM technologies to K-12 schools in underserved communities in the rural regions of New Mexico.

It showcases new methodologies in digital fabrication techniques so students can better identify with new opportunities in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) related fields. Making these technologies transportable creates greater opportunities to showcase science exploration and potential to students across the state. Many rural communities don’t have access to cutting-edge technology because of various social and societal issues – a daunting challenge creators of the Mobile Makers Lab Express are looking to overcome.

“I think the impact the Mobile Makers Lab is going to have on students is one of inspiring students across the state,” Castillo said. “When we were approached by NMT and AFRL to do this collaboration, we recognized it as a great opportunity to reach out to communities who potentially don’t have the tools that we’re making available to them.”

Castillo is co-leader of the design team, along with visiting UNM assistant professor Steve Mora. Together they led the design and fabrication team made up of six SA&P students – Carlos Martinez, Keenan David Boliek-Poling, Kurt Mccurdy, Eric Scott Santti, Wesley Eccles and Siavash Rezaei.

“We’d like to take this project wherever we can, anywhere people don’t have access to some of these tools,” said AFRL Maker Hub director Liam O’Brien. “It’s about getting kids out there and thinking about how things work, how the world works and thinking about projects they may want to see done. More importantly, it’s about breaking things and making mistakes and learning from those mistakes.”

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