Boston Public School Youth Help NASA to Reimagine the Future of Work

 

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Boston Public School youth visit MassRobotics to learn and interact with Pepper from Softbank Robotics

As we end our celebration of World Space Week alongside NASA’s 60th Anniversary, we find ourselves recognizing the achievements of 12 young students from Boston Public School (BPS). Over the summer, they supported NASA to help them imagine how their technology could be used to create inventions for the Future of Work. Our workshop collaborator, Mbadika, hosted a challenge in partnership with the City of Boston, to invite young BPS achievers to stand on the shoulders of giants and explore NASA patents obtained throughout its 60 years.

With this being one small step for the young achievers, we ought to pay our respects to the giant steps made by African-American female engineers like Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughn, Dr. Christine Darden, Astronaut Dr. Yvonne Cagle, and Dr. Katherine Johnson, who just recently celebrated her 100th Birthday. Their contributions have truly impacted space exploration and in our lives as we know it. Whether it’s aluminum foil, microwaves, scratch-resistant lenses (or even falsely credited NASA inventions, like freeze-dried ice cream) it’s undeniable that our experience as Earthlings, and as future Martians, will be shaped by NASA technology.

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Boston Public School youth conduct brainstorming & ideation sessions at the Boston Public Library

Through Mbadika’s summer-long initiative, Boston Design Academy (BDA), students received support and exposure to Boston’s design and innovation economy and provided their perspectives towards innovations for the Future of Work. These experiences were made possible by collaborations with the City of Boston, Timothy Smith Network (TSN), Boston Public Library (BPL), and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.  

Young BPS achievers from TechBoston Academy were invited to spend six weeks at the Boston Public Library to explore how their community could thrive in the future workforce within and beyond the City of Boston. After witnessing various tech and design solutions from companies like, MassRobotics, Le Labo Fragrances, the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), Drone Tech UAS, and Johnny’s Cupcakes, their ideas began to take shape. 

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Boston Public School youth explore NASA’s Patent Portfolio site for a potential innovation to use for their solutions

According to the New York Times, the Future of Work will be dominated by the continuation of the trends like remote working, improved communication, access to professional development, as well as a decline in physical labor requirements. In the City of Boston, this has allowed for more flexibility in the workforce and an improvement in the quality of life. This is evident in various innovations like, robots assisting humans in making furniture and access to disposable income with the booming gig economy like TaskRabbit, Uber, Instacart, etc.

With their newfound knowledge of space exploration and digital fabrication tools, BPS students applied innovations from NASA’s Patent Portfolio using Autodesk’s SketchBook and  Tinkercad to make a prototype of a potential solution to address challenges faced by Boston’s present workforce. They brainstormed, sketched, modeled and fabricated their solutions using 3D printers from FormLabs. For further conceptual renderings, students harnessed the new Tinkercad-to-Fusion 360 plug-in, which took their ideas to another level of awesomeness.  

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Conceptual design workflow of a storage container, Project ZAS, from Sketchbook Pro to Tinkercad to Fusion 360

Students showcased solutions that could assist their fellow Bostonians in navigating the prospective challenges in the workplace in the not-so-distant future. Solutions included: Divergent – a wearable communication device that allows remote workers to have a holographic presence for physical office meetings; Project ZAS – a levitating storage container for workers to carry their personal and work related items; The Third Eye – a flexible yet durable electronic device for seamlessly streaming of content for work and personal uses; LAY Designs – an augmented reality navigation device in the form of a contact lens.   

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Conceptual Fusion 360 renderings of Divergent, LAY Designs, The Third Eye, and Project ZAS

Boston Design Academy was a rewarding experience for BPS students, NASA, and ultimately, the City of Boston. As a Mbadika pilot program, Boston Design Academy allowed students to truly explore the design process and give their teachers the peace of mind for preparing their students for a future of continual learning. Whether exploring how to create a holographic display or employing magnetic levitation in their prototype, it was an absolute delight to see young BPS students literally reach for the stars in bringing their ideas to reality.

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Final 3D printed prototype of an AR navigation device, LAY Designs, with an official NASA badge

As NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Chief of Strategic Partnerships Office, Nona Cheeks commented with regard to Boston Design Academy, “This pilot program offered a valuable and rewarding opportunity to work with student innovators. We’re impressed with the students’ work as they explored NASA technologies and imagined new ways to use them.”