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IdeaSpace – Technological Innovation in FXBG

Pepper the Robot

I walked into IdeaSpace, expecting to be greeted by MakerLab Specialist Simon Watts. Instead, I was greeted at the door by Pepper, a white, speaking, moving robot. “Hi human,” Pepper said to me. I was immediately intrigued by the innovations at IdeaSpace…and, if Pepper was any indication, a tad nervous (robots are, to put it scientifically, quite spooky). 

My nerves were quickly put to rest. 

IdeaSpace is a technology-based branch of the Central Rappahannock Regional Library, located in the Canal Quarter District of Fredericksburg. Their technology includes 3D printers and scanners, drawing tablets, sewing machines, and a vocal studio booth. IdeaSpace is free to any members of the regional library who wish to experience this technology for themselves. 

Watts, recipient of the ‘Top Ten of the Next Gen’ award from the Fredericksburg Chamber of Commerce, pitched the concept of IdeaSpace to both the library and Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority, who awarded them with a grant for funding. IdeaSpace was intended to open in April of 2020, but had to delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than sit on their hands, however, Watts brainstormed how IdeaSpace could contribute to the community during the pandemic. They began using their 3D printers to develop medical gear, including stethoscopes, masks and face shields, for Lifecare and Mary Washington Healthcare. Mary Washington Healthcare awarded IdeaSpace with the Medallion Award for their production of stethoscopes (they also received the Preservation Spark award from the Historic Fredericksburg Foundation, for their renovations of the IdeaSpace facility). 

IdeaSpace was able to open its doors to the public on December 17th, 2020. Of all of their popular and cutting-edge technology,  perhaps the most unique is Pepper the Robot. “Pepper is a good teaching tool,” Watts said, “as well as a bit of a mascot.” Pepper perceives reality through three cameras: one in her forehead, one in her eyes, and one in her mouth. IdeaSpace hopes to hold coding classes with Pepper in the future; until then, Pepper is around to greet members at the door, and to help them with information about the equipment. 

Watts believes IdeaSpace is the perfect outlet for the people of Fredericksburg to gain hands-on experience in technology and software. Small business owners can make cutting boards at IdeaSpace, as well as candle molds with the 3D printers. They also have a new embroidering machine, which they believe will be a hit among the community. 

“The educational aspect of this space is considerable,” Chuck Gray, Branch Manager, said. He noted how kids, as young as grade 6, can learn how to use 3D printers and drawing tablets at IdeaSpace. High School students can use the laser cutter and AV booth independently. 

“I think there is tremendous potential for being exposed to this technology,” Gray said, “especially if you’re in a school district that maybe doesn’t have access to all of this.”

According to Watts, the most innovative piece of equipment at IdeaSpace is the 3D scanner. The 3D scanner, he said, is a true step into new technology. Members of IdeaSpace can take a physical object, and digitize it into a computer. Watts believes the 3D scanner opens up countless possibilities for innovation, including virtual reality, historical preservation, NFTs, among many other avenues. Watts and Gray are thrilled and excited to extend the technology and concept of IdeaSpace, and establish themselves as a Fredericksburg brand. 

“You walk in and you go ‘okay, I haven’t been into one of these before,’” Watts said.