Tinkering with Technology: An interview with Peter Rautek from the KAUST Maker Space

By | September 9, 2017

Peter Rautek has a moment with his red toolbox at the KAUST Maker Space

I recently connected with Peter Rautek, a research scientist at KAUST to ask him about a side-project he’s been working on. He, along with several other collaborators at KAUST, launched the Maker Space Self-Directed Group to enable builders, tinkerers, and innovators to create and connect. 

I was eager to learn more about this group when I began seeing pictures online from members of the group. It looked like they were being creative and having fun in an interesting and new space right here at KAUST. I was interested to know more about the group so I reached out to Peter to learn more – and I thought readers of my site would be interested to know what I learned.

Q: What is Maker Space and how are people using it?


The MakerSpace is a room of about 220 sqm located in building 24 on the KAUST campus. It is filled with tools and gadgets for people to play with technology and to tinker on their projects. However, it is not only a room, but also a growing community of people that value the Do-It-Yourself way of life.

Q: Where did the idea for Maker Space come from? Where did the initial inspiration arise and how does the current group compare to the vision at the early ideation stages?

The idea grew out of the frustration that it was so hard to build stuff at KAUST. Finding tools and materials was simply too hard for many people (including myself) that they rather chose not to start building stuff. The vision is to create a place where people can go and start making things, and meet like-minded people to exchange simple knowledge of the kind “Where can I get this?”, “How can I fix that?”, and “How do I build this?”.

The original vision included workshops and with different tools and materials like, 3D printing, metal work, wood work, sewing, etc. We found that especially working with wood and metal requires a different kind of setup and is not feasible in our current space. So we simply had to focus on the areas that can be done like 3D printing, laser cutting, electronics, microcontrollers, sewing, etc.

Q: Can you share example(s) of recent projects in the Maker Space? What is everyone talking about at the moment?

A few projects were sparked by our Design for KAUST workshop series, other projects have just formed by themselves. One group is working on a sensor that reads out the energy consumption of a residential villa and sends it to the cloud. This can be used to make people aware of their own energy consumption in real-time which typically leads to more awareness and better energy consumption behavior. Another team built an automated hydroponics home-growing system that can produce fresh vegetables and herbs at home. One group is concerned with upcycling old materials from marketing campaigns. They use the materials for sewing bags and wallets. There are plenty of other small groups that prototype things like smart-bus signs, AC leakage detection sensors, and retro computing controllers – just to name a few.

Q: What’s next for Maker Space?

We constantly improve the space and add new tools. Recently we got a Silhouette Cameo cutter that can be used to cut signs and to design T-Shirts. Also we already started preparing the courses for the Winter Enrichment Program 2018 where we will be hosting a bunch of fun activities.

Q: How has KAUST supported this effort?

The Innovation and Economic Development department at KAUST (I&ED) has helped us in many ways to get this movement started. They provided us a brilliant space and helped us re-modeling it. Also we received a small grant that allowed us to get started. In general we try to operate on a small budget and prefer to use it to refurbish and up-cycle old tools and furniture. In fact most of the equipment and furniture in the space are used items and were disposed of. We refurbished a lot of it and put it back to good use. However, without the continued support of I&ED this wouldn’t be possible.

Q: Do you have any lessons learned for creating this community group that you’d like to share with others who might be thinking of doing something similar?

People are very supportive and appreciate efforts like this, which makes it a very rewarding experience. However, don’t start an SDG if you don’t have enough time on your hands and a couple of friends and colleagues that follow through with you!

Q: How can people get started/involved with Maker Space?

The Maker Space is in principle open to the whole KAUST community. However, it doesn’t have regular opening hours yet. Typically people come to the space for workshops and events. To get informed about new activities it is best to follow us on facebook and/or to subscribe to our mailing list.

However, if someone wants to get in touch or more involved with the SDG, we welcoming anyone to contact us and to join our weekly meetings at the space.

Contacts

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I found my interview with Peter pretty inspiring. I didn’t consider myself to be a maker, but I discovered this line in some planning materials about the group and I was further intrigued: “Embracing play with technology and empowering people to tinker and build are the key components of a maker space. Values that are created by a maker space follow from these core practices. Positive effects of maker spaces typically include: the fostering of communities, education of community members and the workforce, upcycling of disposed items. They are typically perceived as recreational activity and often lead to art and innovation. Most importantly, maker spaces bring joy to people that like to play with technology.” Hmm… maybe I am a maker afterall?

If you’re inspired, please contact them to get involved!

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