By Bruce Adams, Contributing Writer
Tucked away on the ground floor of the Illinois Armory, there is a large, welcoming room chock full of technology, where people can introduce themselves to 3D printing, laser cutting, virtual reality, and other emerging tech in an unintimidating, hands-on environment. It’s called the CITL Innovation Studio.
On a recent Tuesday night, fingers clicked the colorful LED-lighted keyboards, and action-filled scenes flashed across the screens as open gaming night got underway.
Organized by the Illinois Esports Registered Student Organization (RSO), the open gaming hours – held Tuesday nights from 5 pm to 9 pm – are open to students as well as anyone in the community.
“We use opening gaming hours as a way for our club members to come out, de-stress, play some fun games together or use the computers, and actively promote events,” said A.J. Taylor, Illinois Esports president. “It's a great way for people to try new games, chat with other people in our community and look at new types of events or have one-off events.”
Besides providing an opportunity for social gaming, Taylor said current and prospective Illinois students can find out more about Illinois Esports and academic tie-ins across the University, such as game design programs and courses.
One of the Center for Innovation in Teaching & Learning’s Innovation Spaces, the Innovation Studio is located at 172 Armory on the east side of the building. The expansive room features a six-screen video wall, a 55-inch interactive touch table, a number of height-adjustable PC workstations with an Oculus Rift S headset and an instruction station connected to the video wall, several wireless Oculus Quest VR headsets, ceiling-mounted PTZ cameras, butcher block tables, and more.
In addition to the VR equipment, the technology includes a laser cutter, mixed and augmented reality, drones, gaming equipment, and new 3D printers. The gaming/VR computers were supplied to the studio by the Office of the Chief Information Officer in 2020.
While groups such as Illinois Esports, MakerGirl, and VR Club regularly reserve the studio for their activities, the Innovation Studio is open to anyone across the university and throughout the community for course visits, research, events, tours and more.
“We'll have people bring in prospective candidates for the campus to show them the kind of equipment that they’ll have access to,” said Jamie Nelson, the Associate Director of Educational Innovation at CITL.
“Boy Scouts have been here. Course visits from fashion illustration students and musical education students to business administration happen here. We attract visitors from the local community to international leaders to see what the University of Illinois offers. It’s even been used as a backdrop for video news stories as well.”
The studio also hosts weekly open hours on Tuesdays from 10 am to 4 pm, where anybody can walk in and try our equipment for free.
“That could be faculty, the public, or students,” Nelson said, adding open hours continue throughout the summer.
“Mostly, it’s students who come in during those hours. So, someone can say to themselves, ‘Hey, I want to learn about 3D printing,’” he continued, adding that if you don’t know where to start, he or a student employee will be happy to help them do that and offer ideas on how they can use the technology in their teaching and learning.
Nelson said exposure to technology in the Innovation Studio provides students with familiarity and confidence that they can take to more production-focused centers across campus and other settings, including the workplace.
The trial-and-error process is essential to learning technology, and it’s easy at the studio, according to Maddie Szarzynski and John Rimando of the Illinois Business Council.
“We have been doing an event with Innovation Studio semesterly for the past few years, and we love coming back!,” they said. “At the Innovation Studio, we engaged with the VR headsets, the laser cutter, the button maker, and the remote-control car.
“Using this technology was valuable because it exposed our members to technology that they do not get to interact with in their day-to-day life. It also helps some of our members find a passion for the technology used in the Studio, and it's an entertaining way to attract everyone in BC to various tech.”
Be sure to visit the Innovation Studio during our Summer Open Hours on Tuesdays from 10 am to 4 pm. If you can’t visit us during those times, please feel free to schedule a visit.
To see what’s going on in the Innovation Studio, visit us on Instagram (citlatillinois).