By Chasiri Sherron. “We knew that we wanted to focus our efforts on a project that could actually be used to benefit others,” UC Berkeley student Joshua Ott said. He and his teammates Matthew Drake, Tony Kim, and Andrew Ansell developed a 3D braille printer for their Mechatronics Design class during the Fall 2019 semester, offered through the UCB Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation.
The Jacobs Institute is part of UCB’s College of Engineering. Launched in 2015, it serves as an interdisciplinary learning space centered around design thinking. The hall is home to labs and studios for instruction, as well as the Makerspace, which is equipped with a variety of prototyping tools, including 3D printers and laser cutters for independent exploration.
Courses range from Jacobs’ own design innovation (DES INV) curriculum, with classes such as Design Methodology and User Experience Design, to design-centered courses in collaboration with other departments like Mechanical Engineering’s Mechatronics Design. It’s also home to the Maker Pass program, which grants both students enrolled in DES INV courses and other interested UCB students access to the Makerspace and free workshops for developing skills outside of their curriculum.
Ott’s team project, called b.Print, aimed to create a desktop 3D braille printer that would be affordable and accessible for visually impaired individuals. Their goal was to find a way to increase braille literacy while practicing the material they were learning in the classroom.
With the help of their professor Hannah Stuart, they worked through their course’s ideation process to create a printer that produces consistent braille pages when connected to a 3D printing base, providing more opportunity for the visually impaired to easily write and use braille.
The b.Print team was grateful to have a place on campus where they got the tools and advice from specialists they needed to build their impactful idea from the ground up. “There were many late nights when we would be in the Jacobs Hall Makerspace until it closed. Without the opportunities that the Makerspace provided, our project would not have been able to evolve through as many design iterations as it did,” Ansell said.
Jacobs Public Programs and Communications Officer Lauren Ardis and Design Specialist Adam Hutz said that Jacobs teaches students to use design thinking to drive positive change. Jacobs’ courses and programs encourage empathetic user research and creative problem solving and provide mentors to guide students in thinking and doing differently.
Ardis said, “The faculty’s multidisciplinary backgrounds foster student creativity and innovation and encourage them to think beyond the typical engineering pedagogical approach.” By exposing students to design thinking and its principles, the Jacobs Institute hopes to bring to light the importance of developing technology for others.
Chasiri Sherron was an IT marketing and communications intern, Information Technology Services, UC Office of the President, and is a UC Berkeley 2020 graduate.
Pictured above: b.Print’s at home 3D braille printer. Photo by Gibson Chu, Jacobs Institute for Design Innovation. Students pictured from left: Andrew Ansell and Matthew Drake.