Open-source loom encourages interdisciplinary learning
You don’t need to go back more than a century to find people who carried the job title “scientist” without any qualifiers. But as STEM fields advanced, people had to become increasingly specialized in more niche disciplines. In recent years, however, we’ve seen a bit of a reversal in that trend and modern occupations often require interdisciplinary knowledge. To foster such knowledge, the open-source SPEERLoom encourages interdisciplinary learning.
Created by a team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and UC Irvine, the SPEERLoom is an open-source robotic Jacquard loom kit that, after assembly, can produce complex textile weaves. Looms like this certainly have practical applications in the textile industry, but SPEERLoom’s true purpose is educational. By building a SPEERLoom and learning the skills to operate it, students can develop ingrained knowledge and experience that crosses the boundaries of traditional disciplines to yield a well-rounded STEM base.
To encourage that education, SPEERLoom’s designers wanted the machine to be accessible and affordable for classroom environments. Most of the machine’s parts are available off-the-shelf and the custom parts can be fabricated using basic tools and 3D-printing.
Jacquard looms are complex machines with many moving parts, but the accessible design extends to the electronic components and actuators. SPEERLoom requires 40 linear actuators and an Arduino Mega 2560 board controls those through MCP23017 I2C port expanders and 40 EasyDriver modules. A custom GUI written in Python lets users send weave patterns, stored as CSV files, to the Arduino to get the process started.
Educators looking for interdisciplinary classroom projects, SPEERLoom appears to be a very alluring choice.