Clockwise from top left: Cyclone Rope Piston by Rise Robotics; handheld CNC router by Taktia; on-camera ring light by LEDStorm. Images: courtesy of the companies.
Clockwise from top left: Cyclone Rope Piston by Rise Robotics; handheld CNC router by Taktia; on-camera ring light by LEDStorm. Images: courtesy of the companies.

MIT’s legendary Hobby Shop, a woodworking and metal working shop in the heart of the MIT campus, is open to all MIT students, faculty, alumni, and staff. And while many shop members join for the pure joy of making things, a number of start-ups—including the three below—can trace their beginnings to objects their founders made at the Hobby Shop.

GPS for Power Tools
MIT alums Ilan Moyer ’08, SM ’13 and Alec Rivers SM ’10, PhD ’13 developed a new style of woodworking router, which they describe as “hand tool meets GPS,” at the Hobby Shop. The router combines the measuring and cutting precision of computer numerical control (CNC) with the flexibility of a hand tool. Moyer and Rivers are now co-founders of Taktia, a company that is developing a new line of computer-augmented power tools for hobbyists, artists, and home woodworkers.

Lights, Camera, Start-up
One project that MIT nuclear science and engineering assistant professor Michael Short ’05, SM’10, PhD ’10, built for fun during his undergraduate days at MIT was a tower of LED lights programmed to change in sync with music. It caught the eye of Scott Gordon, a film lighting director who realized the tower could be adapted as an on-camera ring light for professional film cameras. Soon, Short and Gordon co-founded LEDStorm, which designs and manufactures innovative lighting products for the film and video industry, and a catalogue of energy efficient municipal, commercial, and residential lighting products.

Flexing Robotic Muscles
It’s no wonder Rise Robotics got its start at the Hobby Shop, with four of the five team members holding MIT degrees in mechanical engineering. Rise Robotics designs and manufactures components for wearable robotics, the fastest growing sector of the robotics market. Their first product—the Cyclone Rope Piston, a linear muscle actuator that expands and contracts much like the human bicep muscle— powers machines used in construction, heavy industry, and medical devices. Blake Sessions ’11, co-founder and product director, describes the Hobby Shop as “endlessly accommodating, a place where, as design requirements change, I can learn to use new tools and test new ideas.”

Read more about the Hobby Shop in the Spring 2015 issue of Spectrum: “Making It at MIT”

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