COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland today dedicated the new E.A. Fernandez IDEA (Innovate, Design and Engineer for America) Factory. Designed to foster technology innovations and advances through collaboration across engineering, the arts, business and science, the A. James Clark School of Engineering’s new 60,000-square-foot building is the university’s only facility funded entirely by private philanthropy.
“The IDEA Factory is a spectacular addition to UMD’s robust and growing innovation ecosystem,” said University of Maryland President Darryll J. Pines. “Its world-class facilities for education, innovation, research and product development in robotics, quantum, engineering, transportation and manufacturing will be transformative. Inspired by a namesake who brought pioneering ideas to market, our community will conceive ideas, create designs, build prototypes, develop business plans and bring to market products that will spur economic prosperity in the region, state and nation.”
Located next to the university’s Jeong H. Kim Engineering Building, the IDEA Factory features key research and student programs and activities including:
ALEx Garage: This first-floor space is dedicated to student competition teams such as Terrapin Rockets and Robotics@Maryland, as well as a rapid prototyping lab equipped with 3D printers and other in-demand gear.
Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center: Lockheed Martin gave $2.5 million to equip the center’s new home on the fourth and fifth floors, where faculty and students will conduct research on rotorcraft aerodynamics, structures and flight mechanics. It also boasts a monorail hoist, a giant, yellow crane-like device that can haul heavy equipment up from the ground.
Robotics and Autonomy Laboratory: In this third-floor hub for advancing robotics systems, students can work with Spot, a mobile robot from Boston Dynamics, and an unmanned ground vehicle called Husky from Clearpath Robotics.
Quantum Technology Center: Below grade level with a 3.5-foot-thick concrete floor to isolate delicate experiments from environmental interference, this joint center between the Clark School of Engineering and Department of Physics is where students and researchers focus on translating quantum physics into real-world technologies.
Startup Shell: Founded in a storage closet in 2012, the popular student business incubator now has a spacious new first-floor home where Terps can collaborate and network to scale up student-run startups and take them out to the world.
The IDEA Factory’s movable walls and shared spaces will promote dialogue between students, entrepreneurs and faculty who are working in diverse fields such as multimedia, robotics, rotorcraft and quantum engineering. Particularly striking is a façade dominated by an enormous window—made from laminated glass treated with a film that creates radiant color shifts in transmitted and reflected light—based on the angles at which light hits the window and on where viewers are standing.
“Engineering brings together great minds—people with different backgrounds and perspectives, looking at the same challenge in different ways—to collaborate on solutions that serve humanity. The IDEA Factory will catalyze those collaborations,” said Clark School of Engineering Dean Samuel Graham, Jr. “When the world looks for solutions, it comes to Maryland Engineering. We are incredibly appreciative of our supporters for giving our students, faculty and staff a new place to do cutting-edge work.”
The building is named for Emilio Fernandez ’69, a Maryland engineering alum, entrepreneur and inventor who holds dozens of patents, including one which defined e-reading devices and is the most-cited U.S. patent ever issued. Many of these patents were co-invented with his friend, business partner and fellow Terp Angel Bezos ’69. Their inventions and their company, Pulse Electronics, transformed railroad operations. The building's cornerstone investment came from the A. James & Alice B. Clark Foundation’s Building Together: An Investment for Maryland in 2017.
Fernandez said he hopes the IDEA Factory will accelerate the inclusive collaboration that our society needs in order to solve its grand challenges. “Today’s problems are complex, and they require interdisciplinary solutions,” he said. “We have to combine our specialties so that our knowledge evolves into products and services that help humanity.”
Innovative Infrastructure to Power UMD’s Innovation Ecosystem
The new IDEA Factory is the latest infrastructure addition to UMD’s vibrant innovation ecosystem. This ecosystem includes UMD’s Discovery District, as well as other recent UMD buildings that feature fearlessly forward design and engineering; collaborative, open spaces; and leading-edge facilities.
The IDEA Factory joins recent UMD buildings such as the Brendan Iribe Center for Computer Science and Engineering (2019), a hub for technology, collaboration and discovery; A. James Clark Hall (2017), designed to foster development of transformative engineering and biomedical technologies to advance human health; and the Physical Sciences Complex (2013), created to provide ideal conditions for scientific collaboration, research and innovation with partners across campus and at local federal agencies like the National Institute of Standards and Technology, NASA Goddard and the National Institutes of Health.
All are designed to inspire, educate, foster and support the innovators, entrepreneurs, builders, thinkers, healers and leaders who will create transformational ideas, actions and technologies to expand prosperity and address the grand challenges facing our nation and world.