Building a Makerspace Facilitation Team
Army Headquarters – Future Land Warfare Branch, through the Australian Army Research Centre (AARC), have recently supported the establishment of innovative, practical prototyping spaces that are essential for imbuing the modern Army with the Creative Thinking culture necessary to succeed in a world increasingly reliant on technology. One such Makerspace will soon be inaugurated at Holsworthy Barracks, where it will serve as an opportunity for soldiers to physically express solutions to the gamut of technical, operational and even administrative problems they encounter both in barracks and while deployed on operations and exercises.
To set the conditions for Makerspace to succeed, one of Army’s Innovation and Experimentation Groups (IXG) conducted a two-week externally-supported training course to prepare an initial cadre of members with the requisite skills to assist and challenge future visitors and trainees.
The majority of the course concentrated on ensuring each individual was furnished with a broad enough range of basic technical skills with which to translate future problems into current solutions. From the outset, the students were challenged to understand and assume the discovery learning approach that is a fundamental part of the culture of successful established Makerspaces throughout industry and the international military community. Understanding basic electronics, RF fundamentals and antenna theory, audio-visual theory and componentry, photography, networking, TCP/IP protocols and programming through practical application and manipulation allowed each student to rapidly progress their knowledge of each module’s potential contribution to any prototyped solution, as well as encouraging them to think beyond the scope of any individual component’s usual or expected use case. While it is expected that Makerspace users may be somewhat familiar with the concepts and components they’re exposed to, it’s essential for both safety and effectiveness that each student possesses a minimum level of knowledge and capability in order to ensure they can continue to provide valuable input to discussion and experimentation.
These first eight days of intensive instruction were instrumental not only as a technical introduction to the knowledge and componentry typically employed in prototyping, but also as a means of ensuring each student had the requisite discovery learning experience to draw on in the ensuing months as they are tasked with transferring their newfound expertise to a wider audience.
Now furnished with a broad range of skills and knowledge to apply, this cadre of students were given the opportunity to apply what they’d learned to a prototyping problem set. A UDEC Practitioner acted as a guide through the Understand, Define, Explore and Create stages of the Design Thinking approach to problem solving. The Sprint methodology—popularised by the Agile project management framework and often used in software design teams—was used to rapidly move through the Understand and Define stages, whereupon the students’ goal was determined to be:
Design a vehicle that can see by day and night and can also hear its surroundings, while transmitting all sensor feeds back to the end user.
The students broke up into small Agile teams to move through the Explore and Create stages, relying on a combination of Creative Thinking and recently learned technical skills to design concepts that might suit the given problem set, before applying those same skills to the rapid build and delivery of a prototype. All groups successfully manufactured a viable solution that met the stated goal, and within the prescribed accelerated timeframe, using only the skills and basic componentry they had been exposed to for the duration of the course.
The Makerspace program is designed to foster the Creative Thinking/Discovery Learning approach amongst its members in order to distribute a spirit of experimentation throughout Army. By developing problem solving skills, this learning approach can be applied to future problems that are neither clearly defined nor bounded. Increasing soldier access to disruptive and emerging technologies assists in fostering a culture of innovation and experimentation. This is a vitally important prerequisite for realising the vision of an Army in Motion. Makerspace initiatives that enhance the way our soldiers think will implemented across Army and will be a critical input to capability in order to meet future challenges.
The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.
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