CREATE Lab: Creating Social Impact Through Empowering Communities

As a center housed within Carnegie Mellon University, AMT Lab is fortunate to share a campus with numerous research institutions that make invaluable contributions to the technology field.  The Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Laboratory (CREATE Lab) is one such institution.  Located in CMU's Collaborative Innovation Center, CREATE Lab creates multi-disciplinary learning experiences that allow communities to become technologically fluent. CREATE Lab’s novel combinations of visual arts and technologies provide a wealth of new potential tools to arts administrators and their organization. This article will introduce a few of the exciting projects that CREATE Lab is already testing in the Pittsburgh community, as well as access points for administrators and educators who are interested in implementing them.

Arts and Bots

Arts and Bots combines craft supplies and electronic parts, allowing children to build their own robots and kinetic sculptures.  It combines visual art-making, robotics, and new forms of interpretation for subject areas as diverse as poetry and anatomy.  CREATE Lab partnered with educators to come up with Arts and Bots curricula for middle school aged classrooms, available here.  The electronic parts are available for purchase and combined into Hummingbird Kits licensed through BirdBrain TechnologiesKits include a controller, power supply, cables, servos, motors, colored LED lights, and light, temperature, sound and distance sensors. 

Age Group: Middle and high school students (6-12)

Price Range: $89-849

Children's Innovation Project

The Children’s Innovation Project engages students in learning about simple circuits and electricity through dissecting toys and household items and recombining the individual components. Circuit blocks are the core technology piece, and students use them as building blocks to create their own simple systems.  Creative exploration allows students of very young ages to develop an understanding of both advanced electrical concepts and creative thinking.  Fast Company recently highlighted the project's use of play-based learning and observational drawing as a prime example of stimulating curiosity in young learners. The CIP learning website not only sells kits and individual circuit blocks, but includes an illustrated introduction to the system.

Age Group: Elementary school students (K-5)

Price Range: Individual blocks range from $6.75-9.25; kits range from $29-92

Source: Carnegie Museum of Natural History

Source: Carnegie Museum of Natural History


Explorables are interactive, visual representations of large datasets that create interesting ways to present meaningful information. Information such as the effect of everyday activities on air quality or the connection between earthquakes and fracking are presented in an attractive, evidentiary manner.  In addition, CREATE Lab works with GigaPan (another CMU invention) to create Explorable Images, which allows for learning using ultra-high resolution image zooming.  These images create visual learning opportunities that can be especially useful in museum settings.  The GigaPan website also provides free multi-disciplinary lesson plans for use in classrooms, as well as resources for creating new GigaPans.

Age Group: Elementary-high school students (K-12)

Price Range: Viewing software, videos and curriculum guides are free; cameras for producing GigaPans range from $319-$1000+

This article highlights just a few of the projects CREATE Lab is involved in.  These technologists are working hard to push the edge of educational possibilities, but it’s up to those in organizations to seek out these novel applications and make them work with visitors.  The examples provided are just a few ways that organizations have chosen to make the technology work for them; ideally these inventions can act as a starting point to facilitate a whole variety of engagement opportunities for cultural institutions.

Could you imagine using something like this in your organization, or have you seen examples?  Tell us about it in the comments!