New Drexel tech space lets art and science collide
November 27, 2012By Zack Seward
Engineers working with fashion designers; artists working with computer programmers; musicians working with technologists.
That's the idea behind a new Drexel workspace in University City opening Wednesday evening.
"I want the ExCITe Center to be a place for really creative people to hang out to do things together," says Youngmoo Kim, the director of the center.
In one corner of the space at 3401 Market St. — full name: Drexel University's Expressive & Creative Interaction Technologies Center — is a knitting machine the size of a small car.
At the moment, explains Drexel professor Geneviève Dion, it's making a dress that will be completely seamless.
"This is the machine that we hope ultimately to use to experiment with the production of wearable technology," says Dion.
In the not-too-distant future, Dion says, Drexel researchers could be knitting medical devices, with woven-in sensors that could monitor patients or even unborn babies.
But Dion comes from the world of fashion and design.
"However, I realize that we need technology and we need collaboration in order to make that work," Dion says. "So the new lab here at the ExCITe Center is perfectly positioned to do that."
The name of her new lab, which features four cutting-edge knitting machines donated by a Japanese manufacturer, is the Shima Seiki Haute Technology Laboratory.
ExCITe Center director Youngmoo Kim says the boundaries between different fields are hotbeds of untapped innovation.
"I want the people who are doing fashion design at one table to overhear the conversations from the next table, where they might be working on robots and music," says Kim, "and see how much they can actually learn from each other."
Researchers at ExCITe have already batted around the idea of designing protective clothing for robotic devices, Kim says.
Kim himself has a background in both music and engineering and hopes the new center can bring about creative "collisions," where Drexel researchers and outside thinkers can inform each other's work.
"It's not just about academics kind of huddling in the corner and cooking up crazy, harebrained schemes," Kim says. "It's about bringing all parties to the process."
Beyond high-tech knitting, the center is already funding three small-scale projects, including a motion-sensing video game that helps patients with cerebral palsy stay active.
The ultimate goal, says Kim, is building "cool things" that could impact the region for the better.
"We're focused on producing creative output," Kim says. "And that can take many forms, from scientific research all the way to a dance performance."