Automation, artificial intelligence, real-world sensor development and the Internet of Things (IoT) are changing the entire business landscape as technology evolves at a rapid pace. The core technological innovation that has made these changes possible are a result of tremendous progress by electrical and mechanical engineers in the area of microelectronics and semiconductor development. A function that used to cost millions to implement now can be performed by a $10 chip. Practitioners in this space benefit from these massive innovations.
I recently caught up with the leadership team at E::SPACE Labs LLC., a technology incubator working to fill the gap for electronic hardware development in Central Oregon.
“In the first instance, we are an electronic and electromechanical design and prototyping laboratory,” explains co-founder, Rick Silver. “We provide services to companies and entrepreneurs who are looking to create a prototype or enhance a product they already have.
Established almost three-years ago, E::SPACE Labs has 15 team members, made up of high tech design engineers, an outstanding strategic board of advisors, many of which have advanced degrees and extensive product development experience.
Within product development, co-founders Rick Silver and David Robson and their ”dream team” of designers focus on Internet of Things (IoT), microprocessor design, all of which require hardware and software, so the company has to be adept to both. In addition, E::SPACE Labs has excellent mechanical designers in its group. Clients are both local and regional and operate across a wide range of industries.
E::SPACE Labs works with individual inventors who have their design and product idea clarified but need help with electronics. Today, almost any product has an embedded microcontroller and requires firmware to run it. “We have local companies that need design assistance. Our largest client is a $2 billion multinational in Washington State,” explains Silver.
The educational component is also an important part of its mission, and the Technology Training courses that E::SPACE Labs offers students throughout Central Oregon encourages them to build new innovative prototypes and products. “Our team created a partnership with COCC/Community Learning, where we provide a teaching site for non-accredited technology related courses,” notes Robson. “Filling the gap of what the students’ needs are is a big challenge. Automation and artificial intelligence are rapidly changing the business model of many types of industries so there is a huge need for qualified engineers and technicians to support the automation that is sweeping across industry.”
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While the business environment is changing fast, Silver notes that schools and universities struggle to create course curricula that is current due to lengthy approval and implementation processes. As an independent institution, E::SPACE Labs creates new courses regularly based on what it sees to be the market needs. “We think too many who work in high-tech don’t understand enough about the fundamentals of electricity and electronics,” says Robson. “Our classes have been developed to fill such gaps.
As key advisor Les Mace explains, there are several jobs where practitioners just need to become proficient in a few fundamental subjects. “Some people will go on to get engineering degrees, but overall, I think we’re providing opportunity for people wanting to enhance their innovation skills.”
“We started out with just a couple of classes two and a half years ago and we’re almost up to fifteen,” explains Silver. “From a practical standpoint, we can pivot very quickly and create classes that are relevant today. 15% of E::SPACE Labs’ students are of middle school age looking to get a jump start on their career and/or prep for college. Technological knowledge is crucial to economic survival for today’s job opportunities. We believe everyone needs some understanding of the pervasive technology that surrounds us.”
The Bend for-profit business also participates in a Capstone program with OSU Cascades where corporate entities sponsor engineering students and complete a twenty-six-week project based on the interest of the sponsor, developing a solution to a real-world problem. For the second year in a row E::SPACE Labs has an OSU Cascades intern from the Computer Science program. “We are very active with EDCO, Opportunity Knocks and the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO)” says Mace.
One of E::SPACE Labs’ current initiatives consists of building out the IoT prototype component of the business. Robson believes all companies will be compelled to adapt to the technological revolution sweeping across the business world.
“Businesses, schools and government entities are facing an entirely new paradigm of operation. The IoT environment is growing tremendously and almost every business will be compelled to adapt to the IoT revolution in order to remain competitive,” exclaims Robson. “Even more pervasive than the computer revolution that totally changed business in the last 30 years, IoT is changing business models. We are leveraging our capability to provide design and prototyping to companies that will help them to survive. E:SPACE’s forte is hardware and software development utilizing microcontrollers and microprocessors that can talk to each other, called machine-to-machine (M2M) and perform functions automatically that are traditionally done under human control.
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