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Technology alum launches Open Source Classroom

Rob Martin talks

Startup Showcase winner Rob Martin talks about his company Open Source Classroom LLC.

Rob Martin’s hobby of building 3-D printers has grown into a business that sees the Department of Technology graduate working with educators across the state and individuals in the community.

Martin ’12, M.S. ’13, is founder and president of Open Source Classroom LLC, which provides education on building and operating 3-D printers and an environment dedicated to connecting budding creators with open source technologies.

Martin traced the origins of Open Classroom LLC back three years, when he built his first 3-D printer with Instructional Assistant Professor Dave Kennell, M.S. ’00. His friends saw his completed printer and enlisted Martin’s help in building their own. During Martin’s first semester of graduate school he was approached by Technology Professor Chris Merrill, who had received a grant for 30 3-D printer kits. Martin worked alongside Kennell, who now serves as vice president of Open Source Classroom, to lead workshops designed to teach educators to build and use 3-D printers.

Martin and Kennell hosted three workshops throughout the summer, all of which were well-received. The experience working with teachers gave him the idea to create the business.

“There is a steep learning curve that is associated with using the machine,” Martin said. “I felt like there needed to be a place where people could learn about 3-D printing in a fun environment.”

While Martin began to gather resources to launch his business following graduation, he was approached with by Doan Winkel from the George R. and Martha Means Center for Entrepreneurial Studies and encouraged to enter his idea into the 2013 Startup Showcase. Martin’s idea won first place, garnering $20,000 in cash to launch his business as well as $31,000 in other services such as website design and legal help.

“I was going to start this business before I heard of the competition,” Martin said. “As soon as I made the commitment that I wanted to be in the competition, I wanted to win. It forced me to not just look at my business idea, but test it.”

Since establishing Open Source Classroom Martin has been leading two- day workshops for those wanting to build their own open source 3-D printers for use in the classroom, develop CAD (computer-aided design) skills for 3-D printers, and learn about open source programming and robotics.

So far Martin has led 11 workshops focused on building 3-D printers and has plans to expand even further.

“In building your own printer you learn so much more about how the machine works and areas for improvement,” Martin said. “And one of the great things about open source 3-D printers is that you can design and print new parts.”

Martin’s approach to teaching involves three engineering disciplines: mechanical and electrical knowledge, programming skills, and proficiency in CAD software. These disciplines form the basis for what Martin refers to as 3-D literacy, which helps to increase students’ technical understanding, critical thinking and problem-solving, as well as an ability to utilize open source resources.

Since he first began working with 3-D printers, Martin has assisted with building more than 50 printers. Martin prints some of the necessary parts himself, then obtains the required aluminum parts from local manufacturers, and gets some pieces off the shelf. The ability to print his own parts and to work with local manufacturers allows Martin to truly customize his printers, which change and evolve every time he builds another.

One of the other aspects of Martin’s business is the MakerSpace, which he hosts at his office in Bloomington. The MakerSpace allows people to create and collaborate on projects in a space designed to facilitate the exchange of information, techniques, and ideas. The MakerSpace is reflective of the culture behind the open source communities across the Internet, which encourages sharing techniques, schematics, code, skills, and other information.

“Just about everything I have learned about this I have learned from the open source community,” Martin said. “There’s a huge community of people out there who generously contribute bits of knowledge here and there. I try to teach people how to not only take information from the open source community, but also to give back.”

Learn more about Martin and Open Source Classroom at opensourceclassroom.com.

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