DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8310-3.ch012
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NOVA Labs, located in Northern Virginia, is a mature site with a stunning amount of sophisticated manufacturing equipment and tools for making. The space has a well-thoughtout membership structure, with different levels tied to access to the space and to the equipment. Key members, the highest level of membership, must be approved by the board of directors. Because it is an all-volunteer space, members are expected to give back to the community both in time and in their talents, by teaching classes and working in the space. The space hosts a cadre of professional makers and start-up businesses that utilize the collective expertise of the community to develop products and ideas. This chapter explores NOVA Labs.
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You have to cultivate a culture where people are both getting something out of the community and interested in contributing back to it in some way. - Fred Briggs


Organization Background

Located in the somewhat crowded but very affluent northern Virginia community of Reston, sits the NOVA (northern Virginia) Labs’ community-based makerspace. The main makerspace is housed in a commercial brick building amongst a number of different businesses. A secondary space is dedicated to youth and their NOVA Labs educational robotics initiative. NOVA Labs started in 2011 with 14 founding members and opened the first physical location in 2012. The current site, which opened in 2014, has 10,500 ft2 (976 m2) of space. At the time of the visit, an estimated 100 members were paying dues with 500 to 800 participants visiting per month. Approximately one-third of the space is used as an open work area and classroom space. The other portions of the space are studio areas and a few business incubator areas.

Once through the front doors, the space has a reception/check-in station where members can scan their RFID membership cards. Called the ‘Orange Bay’, the front space is open with tables and work areas as seen in Figure 1. Along the outside of the space are small project areas for project storage, crafter's guild, electronics station, kitchen area and a set of couches.

Figure 1.

The workroom area of NOVA Labs


Farther into the space is a classroom area partitioned off by glass doors. The classroom can accommodate up to 50 people and has dividers, allowing for the creation of smaller spaces. Fred Briggs, a NOVA Labs member, small business owner, and instructor in the space, noted that much of the equipment and even architectural elements of the space were not purchased but donated. Briggs stated:

Our woodshop came from a guy who had been divorced and basically didn't have a big house anymore or basement, so everything was sitting in a container, and he's like, ‘Hey, how about I just co-locate everything there?’

So it's all a hodgepodge, secondhand. And then to move in here, we actually got $50,000 from Google, raised money to be able to refurbish this place. Those front doors, those beautiful glass doors right there, were from a building that was being renovated in Georgetown, and we knew the contractor, and we said ‘Hey, could we have those doors?’

Just in front of the classroom space is a small dedicated 3D print area that was made by members of the space, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2.

The 3D print area


A long hallway leads deeper into the area, past incubator spaces and workshops. The space is purposefully closed off from visitors and the classroom as a way to ensure safety and enforce that members are trained prior to entering the workshops.

The incubator spaces are available to rent for Key members when available. As explained by Marybeth Haneline, the current president of NOVA Labs, the incubators are small businesses that Nova Labs is helping to get started. Small Batch Assembly is one such space, which is operated by Bob Coggeshall. According to Haneline, he's called SudoBob and he's a bit of a legend, because he co-developed the Unix SUDO program. Coggeshall runs Small Batch Assembly, which creates custom circuit boards.

Specific workshops include the digital fabrication lab, woodshop, and metal shop. The digital fabrication shop is a restricted access area, and members must be trained on the equipment to enter the room. It contains a 100 watt laser cutter along with an interesting piece of equipment called a thermoformer. Haneline commented that one of the more popular projects is creating products using molds. Members make molds using either the 3D printer, laser cutter, or CNC router (Computer Numerical Control) to create the molds. As shown in Figure 3, the thermoformer heats plastic to a temperature that allows material to easily be formed into a specific shape by being placed in a mold.

Figure 3.

The thermoformer


Key Terms in this Chapter

GoBox: A robotics subscription service on the Raspberry Pi.

Reston, Virginia: An affluent community located in Northern Virginia.

GoPiGo: A complete robot kit.

NOVA Labs: Community-based makerspace located in Northern Virginia.

FIRST: For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology runs the FIRST collection of robotic competitions.

Thermoformer: A machine used to heat plastic in order to shape it in a mold.

RFID: Radio-frequency identification.

Tikkun Olam Makers (TOM) DC: Makeathon for assistive technology.

Bob Coggeshal: The inventor of the Unix Sudo command.

Arduino: A small microcontroller used for rapid prototyping.

Open Nights: Times that the shops are open and shop stewards are available for consultation by members.

Bench Tools: A collection of tools like a handsaw, belt sander, and drill press.

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