Back to the Future Part II was a time travel film produced in 1989, where Marty McFly gave the world its first glimpses of a distant millennium…the year 2015 to be exact. The film showed outrageous inventions like video calling, fingerprint recognition, flying cars (maybe one day), and tablets. The JMU X-Labs, similarly, was like stepping into a futuristic realm that was, for many of us, unknowingly very much real and present in the year 2015.
Each major essentially lives, eats, and sleeps in one academic building- Physics students in Phys/Chem, Biology and Engineering majors in ISAT, WRTC students in Harrison, and Industrial Design students in any one of the various newly acquired buildings that look like abandoned factory warehouses. Walking into the Makers Space of JMU X-Labs was a foreign and intriguing experience. We were greeted by entrepreneurs from NOVALab beaming in on telepresence robots, professors and student from multiple disciplines (essentially aliens), and were introduced to UAV Drones and 3-D printers, virtual reality goggles, etc.
As we traded in our traditional school desks for great wooden tables, the air of collaboration and potential interdisciplinary thinking was thick. Unlike conventional classrooms, the concept of a singular focus on the lecture of one professor in the front of a room is nonexistent in the X-Labs. Instead, professors buzz around the room, comingling with tables of potential while professional technology experts beam in to teleconference on immersive screens around the room. With the overwhelming environment of idea generation and prototyping, it is often impossible to focus everyone’s attention on presentations and the buzz of excitement makes one-on-one discussions with professors hard to hear. Despite these minor glitches in the Makers Space, the experience of working in this futuristic room is astonishing.
Thus far, the Stream Team has collaborated with professors and the guiding angels at NOVALabs to modify our drone, 3-D print parts and attachments, and experiment with the concept of virtual reality for our final exhibition. The Makers Lab gives students the opportunity to explore their technological creativity and implement ideas for real-world purposes, both a unique opportunity and an extraordinary freedom.