It’s hard to know which came first: advances in the daring of extreme athletes or in the technology that propels them ever farther, higher and faster.
For Anette “Peko” Hosoi, a professor of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an avid mountain biker, the more important question is: How do we ensure progress continues?
She’s doing her part by running STE@M (Sports Technology and Education at MIT), a program that puts students together with professors and industry partners to work on challenges that lie at the intersection of engineering and sports.
“The goal of STE@M is to actually have impact and bring products to market,” says Hosoi. “So a key part of the program is industrial affiliations. If we don’t have partners in industry, we don’t understand the needs of the marketplace or where the industry is going.”
Hosoi says that the hardest part about fostering collaboration between academia and industry is making the initial connection and starting a conversation. To spark more such conversations, she’s currently preparing for the second annual STE@M Day, which will be held at MIT on May 15, 2015. So far, companies that have agreed to participate include Patagonia, Nike, Polartec, and Sheico Group, a Taiwanese company that’s the world’s largest maker of wet suits.
“The goal for this event,” says Hosoi, “is to get us together so we can understand their challenges, and let them into our labs so they can see new technology we’re working on.” The highlight of the afternoon will be what Hosoi calls an Engineering Petting Zoo. “Companies and students bring their technology projects – what they’re working on – so people can see where the industry is going; where we should be focusing our efforts,” she says.
“At Patagonia, we had never worked with a university before,” says Tetsuya O’Hara, Director of Innovation Research at the company and a lifelong windsurfer, surfer and skier. O’Hara, now an advisor to STE@M, explains that prior to his involvement with the program Patagonia was mostly dependent on its suppliers, including textile mills and garment manufacturers, for new ideas.
“It has been very eye-opening,” he says. “MIT has thousands of researchers, but their work is not public. Without this program I wouldn’t have access to understand what’s going on at MIT and what the opportunities are for Patagonia. It’s a very valuable experience.”
Photos courtesy of MIT.