It’s a different world out there. Young people are learning computer code, building robots, working from laptops, and inventing the future.
In Annapolis Royal, Canada’s oldest European community, the future is being designed on a smart board in a small Innovation Lab where supervisor Geoff Keymer says anything is possible.
When local residents wanted a new and bigger library, it was the perfect opportunity to include a maker space that they could pack with technology, rolling toolboxes that double as workstations, and a synergy that comes from people working together.
It’s part of the new Community Hub that while open since late November, holds its grand opening Feb. 15.
Keymer takes care of the lab equipment, makes sure it’s running and working properly, and also introduces programs and procures mentorship as well as learning and teaching interactive programming.
“Basically it’s a space full of stuff,” he says as he helps two youngsters use the 3-D scanner. “The space becomes whatever you want it to be when you’re in here.”
It can be an audio recording studio, a complete video-editing studio, a full robotics lab.
“Not only can you build robots here but with a 3-D printer and scanner you can make your own parts to build robots,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of robotics here – young children all the way up to teens and adults are building robots.”
You can go to the lab and create t-shirt designs and actually print the t-shirts.
There’s a smart board that acts as a presentation board, a screen for a projector, or a monitor for a laptop – and it has a white board for scribbling on. It can go online like a computer or connect with other smart boards on the other side of the country.
“There’s a number of partners involved here,” Keymer says. “The library, the town, the Friends of the Library, ACOA – all those people.”
The smart board is the library’s but lives in the Innovation Lab that is a glassed in room inside the library in the old Annapolis Royal Regional Academy.
Two youngsters are playing with the smart board. One of them finds a ball that is actually a robot and he controls it from a tablet. The ball races around the lab. People move their feet as it rushes by.
Keymer is keeping an eye on the progress of the two other youngsters at the 3-D scanner where they’re scanning a robot part. They’ll clean it up on the computer and send it off to the 3-D printer.
Keymer’s background is in audio engineering, but even though he’s a tech guy, he says there’s a very big learning curve coming to his job as Innovation Lab supervisor.
“There’s a big learning curve because all of this is moving so quickly,” he says. “If you sort of get involved in one area, for instance audio engineering and you’re spending a lot of time learning audio engineering, 3-D modeling and robotics is moving as quickly as audio engineering but you may not be aware of it.”
Keeping up with everything is a daunting task.
“We’re getting quite fragmented. Computers have fragmented things for us,” he says. “At one time you could know a lot about a lot. Now it seems we just touch the surface of a lot. If you want to know more you have to dig deeper. It’s almost to the exclusion of other things. Almost. It moves at the speed of light. Young people, however – this is part of their vocabulary.”
The lab offers people the opportunity and ability to innovate.
“It’s the young people that are really getting a lot of use out of it, although this was not necessarily designed specifically for young people,” Keymer says. “It was designed for everyone, and part of the vision is to help facilitate older people – people who are not aware of this – get into some of these technologies and help them find out a little bit more.”
He wants people to come in and experiment, innovate, create, share, and mentor. “And it seems to be working that way,” he says.
“Young people come in here and of course they know no fear, so they’ll jump into whatever it is and just start working with it,” he says. “Some of the older people are a little bit more hesitant. It takes a little bit more encouragement.”
Keymer says you can’t hurt anything. “You can’t do anything wrong in here,” he says. “I think that young people know that inherently.”
And there are synergies Keymer witnesses every day.
“You can see it quite a lot, particularly with young people because they get to know each other easier,” he says. “They don’t have that element of hesitancy of meeting new people or getting to know new people. Two young people will get together, and without even exchanging names or anything will be working on the same project.”
Annapolis Royal Mayor Bill MacDonald drops by the lab as Keymer works with the kids and conducts a media interview. Keymer shows the mayor photos of recent lab events.
“One of the most remarkable things about this community hub is the Innovation Lab,” says MacDonald. “It is open to anyone who wants to explore the use of technology, to create, to innovate, to design. The audio equipment, the 3-D printer, the access to high-tech toys and online products – it’s just incredible for the kids, incredible for the adults, incredible for everybody.”
He’s looking forward to coming and taking some of the workshops he knows are going to be held there.
MacDonald will be at the grand opening of the Community Hub that houses the library, a music room, and the Innovation Lab on Feb. 15 at 11 a.m. Everyone is welcome to attend – and invent something.