Seeking a New Generation of Inventors

Click below to see clips from Bens interviews at the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab.

Would you like to build a robot that can clean your room? At the Qualcomm Thinkabit Lab in San Diego, California, kids use STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills to create and develop projects that are limited only by their imagination.

Qualcomm, a telecommunications company, created the Thinkabit Lab in 2014 to inspire more students to become engineers and software developers. Since the lab opened, it has hosted classes and camps for more than 14,000 students, teachers, and parents.

Part makerspace, part learning environment, the Thinkabit Lab provides students with hands-on experience in technology and introduces them to STEM-related careers that they didn’t know existed.

´┐╝Students at work in the Thinkabit Lab

Students work on their inventions in the Thinkabit Lab.


I recently visited the lab with students from Vista Innovation and Design Academy (VIDA), a magnet school for middle-graders in Vista, California. We began in the World of Work, where we matched our personal strengths, interests, and values with possible careers.

We then learned about O*NET OnLine, a free database that forecasts the demand for various careers. We also came up with possible inventions for the Internet of Things (IoT), a network of devices that is connected wirelessly so that data can be shared rapidly.

In the engineering lab, we worked in groups to design and create new devices using electronic equipment, laptop Arduinos (programming boards), servos (motors), resistors, LEDs, and breadboards (a board for making an experimental model of an electric circuit).

Some of the more innovative student projects at Thinkabit have included self-opening refrigerators and robots that can do chores. Jennifer Manfredi, a senior instructor at Thinkabit, recalls a sixth-grade class that designed and created an electronic spoon to help stroke victims eat more easily.

“The level of care,” Manfredi said, “was phenomenal.”

Ben with Erin Gavin, director of the Thinkabit Lab

Ben with Erin Gavin, director of the Thinkabit Lab


Thinkabit instructor Vanessa Myers said that she sees a transformation in the students who participate in the program. “We have a lot of students come here with no interest in science and engineering,” she said. “After they leave, they want to get more involved in STEM at their schools.”

Eric Chagala, principal of VIDA, has noticed a similar trend. He said that after his students participate in the Thinkabit experience, “we start having about 50 percent more girls enroll in robotics and coding classes than when the school year started.”

Chagala believes that hands-on experienes in the lab have benefited his students. “When I was in school, we sat at desks in straight rows,” Chagala said. “We did the same thing every single day. Here, I always learn something new.”