New Autodesk Foundation partnership strengthens impact design-centered problem-solving

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By Peter Bittner

danlim_h4g-eventThe UC Berkeley Blum Center for Developing Economies is thrilled to announce an exciting new partnership with the Autodesk Foundation, which includes launching a new Big Ideas contest category, “Hardware for Good,” and supporting project-based immersive learning experiences within the Development Engineering (DevEng) program. As the Autodesk Foundation’s first-ever academic partner, the Blum Center is proud to bring impact design thinking to the UC Berkeley campus.

On September 28, nearly 100 eager students attended an informational event on campus at UC Berkeley to learn more about the “Hardware for Good” category. Attendees learned about the competition timeline, available resources, and fundamentals of “impact design,” which brings together social, environmental, public-interest and other related design disciplines focused on creating positive change and lasting impact.

Heather Lofthouse, the Blum Center’s Director of Special Projects, said “the Center is eager to infuse more impact design training and focus into all of our initiatives through the partnership.”

The new Big Ideas Hardware for Good category offers opportunities for mentorship, consulting and up to $10,000 in funding to teams of students from universities across the globe committed to leveraging the “Hardware Revolution” for large-scale social benefit.

hkl_h4g-eventIn the past, the output and scalability of game-changing hardware innovations has been restricted by the high level of capital and resources required to develop physical goods. With the recent rise of developments such as 3D printing, computer aided design (CAD) software, and makerspaces, the cost of prototyping and manufacturing hardware products at low volume has plummeted, allowing young innovators to develop solutions faster, cheaper, and more conveniently than ever.

“As barriers to entry continue to drop and hardware solutions grow and develop, so too do the opportunities to harness them for social good,” said Joe Speicher, Executive Director of the Autodesk Foundation. “We are excited to partner with the UC Berkeley Blum Center to support young innovators in this space.”

Student innovators in the Big Ideas Hardware for Good category will be able to develop real-world projects in everything from wearables (think Fitbit and Google Glass) and assistive technologies to devices to improve agricultural productivity, and smart home systems which improve energy efficiency and safety.

Past Big Ideas winners have focused on developing hardware-oriented solutions to pressing global problems, but the new category represents an unprecedented opportunity for students in that unparalleled financial and human resources will be expressly devoted towards this end.

BCAPI, a 1st Place Winner in the IT for Society category in 2015, is a great example of a Big Ideas team devoted to developing creative and scalable hardware solutions. BCAPI is developing a powerful software and hardware package that will enable developers and researchers to create a range of Brain Computer Interfacing technologies to assist millions of people with physical disabilities who lack control of their bodies, but can control their minds.

The UC Berkeley Blum Center-Autodesk Foundation partnership also means expanding and enhancing already robust resources for Berkeley students in the pioneering Development Engineering program, which is making major contributions to the emerging interdisciplinary field centered on technology interventions to improve human and economic development.

“We’ll host a series of pop-up courses centered around impact design for the DevEng program – from workshops for building sensor networks to Fusion 360 trainings aimed at non-STEM majors,” said Ms. Lofthouse.

The pop-up modules will be taught by teams of instructors representing a variety of different disciplines and perspectives focusing on human-centered, high-impact design. The mini-courses will be the first in a series that focuses on hands-on design coursework. The partnership with the Autodesk Foundation will also support future impact design workshops and travel grants for DevEng students seeking to collaborate on location.

As part of the new partnership, the Blum Center will actively engage with the Impact Design Hub, drawing from its strong ecosystem of impact designers to share their insights with broader audiences.

The current 2016-2017 Big Ideas contest deadline for the pre-proposal is due on November 16, 2016. For more information, please visit the Big Ideas website or email the Big Ideas team to set up an advising appointment!