Located in the heart of the La Défense business district on the outskirts of Paris, the Léonard de Vinci group includes an engineering school (ESILV), a management school (EMLV), the Institut de l’Internet et du Multimédia (IIM) and Devschool, a school that trains software developers.
In November 2014, the group opened a FabLab, an open space where students can imagine, design and prototype connected devices and services.
Gaël Chareyron, a lecturer and researcher in ESILV’s IT department and Flavien Courbier, head of the interactive design department, both of whom are managers of the FabLab, told us about this place designed for sharing and exchanges.
When did you set up this FabLab and why?
Gaël Chareyron: It was a request from both students and teachers. The initial idea was to set up a co-working space where students from the different establishments could get together and share knowledge. At first we thought of 3D printing, which the students really liked, then we added electronics and IoT.
“The FabLab gives people access to equipment, but, more importantly, the venue itself allows students from different courses to get together and talk. And that’s what helps them design new objects.”
We have first-year students who are making drones. It’s not something they’re required to do at school, but the FabLab inspires them to innovate.
This year, we founded an association that manages the FabLab and offers training to students, because some of the equipment is quite difficult to use. We also organise sessions with final-year secondary school students or companies who come to see us because they need to make a prototype quickly, for example.
IOT prototypING FOR EVERYONE
What sort of technologies are available at the FabLab?
With the engineering school, we initially had machine tools, digital lathes, drills, etc. – basically, everything you need for metalworking.
For the first version of the FabLab, which was set up in November 2014, we invested in 3D printers and electronic equipment. Initially, the FabLab was about 300m2. Now we have a lot more equipment and have reached a surface area of 1,000m2.
For connected devices, we have technology that allows us to prototype things quickly and don’t necessarily require very advanced knowledge. Littlebits, for example, are electronic building blocks that can be put together like Lego. The different types of components have different colours: actuators, sensors, power supplies, etc. and enable users with no particular electronics skills to design objects. We also have collections of RFID tags, beacons, Arduino boards –microcontroller-based kits for building digital devices and interactive objects – and anything else used to build integrated circuits. We also have virtual reality equipment such as a 3D scanner and an Oculus Rift headset.
Do students already have an idea for a project when they come to see you?
Some have talked to other students about projects they’ve worked on at the FabLab, whilst others come with ideas they’ve found on the Internet. We also have former students who come to us when they’re setting up a business to see what we can do with them, such as creating services for connected devices. And we also have students who come with very specific ideas such as the school’s cosplay association which makes its masks thanks to our 3D printers!
hybrid talents to generate innovation
We see all sorts of projects. For the school’s IoT course, students have lessons on healthcare, smart buildings, etc. and that gives them ideas. At the moment, for example, we have students working on a connected salt-shaker, so a more health-oriented device.
Several times a year, we have cross-disciplinary weeks during which students from all three schools work together. The idea is to combine talents, and it often focuses on IoT issues.
“Our technologies mean that non-engineering students can build prototypes. If we want to miniaturise things or address other issues, we need people from more technical backgrounds.”
Flavien Courbier: In October 2015, we launched a connected furniture hackathon. We had a partnership with Squair Factory, a company that makes connected furniture and the students worked on it for a week. Their designs were then industrialised. Some other students teamed up with Cisco to make a wristband whereby people can call for help if they feel unwell or unsafe. They’re now looking to incubate the project.
“The students have really taken on board the fact that physical objects can also communicate.”
FOCUS ON use
What advice would you give a student planning on launching an IoT project?
Flavien Courbier: Often what drives innovation is when you’re trying to fix something that doesn’t work or figure out what’s missing. Basically, IoT addresses the kind of issues that get on people’s nerves!
Gaël Chareyron: I would also add that you shouldn’t worry too much about the technical side of things: there’ll always be someone to work on that. The important thing how it’s used and the benefits it can offer.
Photo credit: ©Hélène Savvidis \ Objets connectés FabLab Pôle Léonard de Vinci