Arizona’s universities are known as places of innovation, but Tempe-based University of Advancing Technology (UAT) has taken that role to a new level by driving every student at the university to be an innovator of technology.
Since 2007, UAT has required all students to innovate and add to the ever-expanding world of technology in order to graduate.
“They have to innovate,” said UAT President Jason Pistillo. “We fanned the flame of innovation with this new requirement.”
David Strait, a former Marine who is a senior robotics and embedded systems major at UAT, has seen many fellow veterans and friends who are amputees as a result of their service. Strait turned UAT’s challenge to innovate into an opportunity to help those amputees.
“I go to hospitals and constantly see veterans that are swiveling around on peg legs,” Strait said. “We have better technology than that.”
Strait used that technology to create an open source 3-D printable prosthetic arm with a headset that allows the wearer to control the arm with his or her mind.
Strait said advanced prosthetics are too expensive for veterans to afford. 3-D printable prosthetics are much cheaper to produce, so Strait’s innovation gives veterans and amputees more advanced prosthetic technology that is much more affordable.
The neural headset that goes with the prosthetic arm works by reading the user’s EEG brainwaves through the skull without any surgery or connections to the brain. In order to make the arm move, the user must think of a simple and readable thing, which allows the headset to translate the brainwave and then tell the arm to perform a specific action.
To help students like Strait see their technological ideas come to fruition, Pistillo said UAT promotes an open environment where all students have access to every lab, regardless of major. While creating his prosthetic arm project, Strait said he was able to create everything he needed inside of UAT’s Maker Studio. He also said there was never a need to send schematics to a factory to build his project. Strait was able to make it at UAT himself.
To continue as a breeding ground for innovators, Pistillo said UAT looks only for students who are passionate and smart about technology and for students that are actually creating technology.
“Someone making solar robots will get in over a student with a 4.0 GPA who hasn’t even made a webpage yet,” Pistillo said. “When all peers have that same innovative personality, you have an entire environment of innovation.”
As UAT looks toward the future, Pistillo said that it is enrolling students in a new Digital Maker and Fabrication program, which trains students to create technologies that will revolutionize the world through 3-D printers, MakerBots and robotics.
“This program is as ahead of the curve in today’s world as a university would have been if it had been teaching classes on internet programing in 1991,” Pistillo said.