At first glance, a shipping container doesn’t seem like an ideal place to get work done. The extended length of the crate makes for an awkward, tunnel-like layout, and the need for lights and electricity to operate tools makes an external power source an inconvenient necessity. But despite these challenges, Ann Saterbak believes they’ll make an ideal design space for engineers.
Saterbak, professor of the practice in biomedical engineering, teaches the Pratt School of Engineering’s First-Year Design course, where teams of freshmen spend up to two semesters prototyping design projects for community partners across Duke, Durham and beyond. In the three years since the program’s inception, students have completed projects including a device to feed lemurs at the Duke Lemur Center, a bridge that can withstand major weather events and a realistic arm model that helps nursing students practice IV-line insertion.
Now, Saterbak is helping two teams of students turn an abandoned shipping container into a functional workspace where engineers can design and prototype various inventions, all while using tools that are practical, affordable and widely accessible in low-income environments. The project was planned with engineering partners at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where students lacked a proper design workspace.
As students at Duke make modifications to their container, they’re also collaborating with engineering faculty at Makerere to duplicate their efforts and create a ‘twin’ workspace in a container in Uganda.
“The idea was that we needed to create an affordable makerspace, and we needed to create something that Makerere could easily duplicate,” says Saterbak. “We decided to use shipping containers because there are so many of them in Uganda, and they are readily available to use. They are also commonly converted into other things, including businesses and restaurants, so a design space wasn’t a stretch of the imagination.”