How The GrabCAD Community Helps NASA Solve Tough Problems
Crowdsourcing allows participants to collaborate more, from basic tools like mailing lists and websites through platforms like StackSocial and uTest. Created in 2011, NASA CoECI included exploring crowdsourcing as one of its collaborative approaches.
"Our CoECI works across all of NASA and all of the federal government to facilitate using crowdsourced challenges, particularly curated crowds," explains Steven Rader, Deputy Manager of NASA's Center of Excellence for Collaborative Innovation (CoECI). "We [CoECI] act somewhat as brokers. We have a set of contracts with these companies, that can be used to execute crowdsourcing activities like a prize challenge."
The other half of putting crowdsourcing to work, Rader explains, is finding projects within NASA who have challenging projects that the CoECI crowds can help find solutions to, and educating these projects on the value of using the crowd.
How GrabCAD Challenges Help
Part of CoECI's "crowd" includes the many mechanical, electrical and other designers and developers who have joined the GrabCAD Community.
"We find that the 'crowd' has much more capacity to do high quality, specialized work than anyone ever imagined," explains Rader. "The crowd can keep up with the latest and greatest knowledge, technologies and techniques. We are learning how to use and access that capacity through various crowd platforms."
Challenging projects such as GrabCAD Challenges invite the public to be involved with space and with space exploration, rather than just being excited observers.
"We have all sorts of ways for people to be involved," says Rader. "Some projects require specific technical expertise. Some, you can just be a good graphic artist, or be good with CAD."
And it's not always about winning the money.
"It's about contributing something meaningful, along with showing off your skills to the rest of the community," Rader explains.
As of mid-2019, NASA CoECI has done 350 challenges through sixteen different crowdsourcing platforms and communities, including several through GrabCAD.
"The GrabCAD Community is an important part of NASA's 'crowd,' says Rader. "I discovered GrabCAD a few years ago when I heard about an aircraft mounting bracket design challenge that GE did on GrabCAD that resulted in an impressive 83% mass savings."
GrabCAD has millions of mechanical engineers and designers, so we had a strong feeling that GrabCAD would be a good place to find creative people and to get innovative design.
And issuing challenges within GrabCAD has been giving NASA access to a big pool of players. "For one $2,000 prize challenge, we got 500 designs from GrabCAD Community members. Each of those would have cost us $500 to $1,000 apiece if we built them in-house, so we more than got our money's worth."
The designs are more than just designs.
"Once we get a design from the crowd, we may be able to take that design and improve it even more to get an even better end solution," explains Rader.
"NASA has lots of problems that can benefit from crowdsourcing -- but we can't always reach as many people as we'd like to involve,” says Rader. “GrabCAD is a valuable resource in finding solutions using their community of innovative experts. We're as excited to have more people contributing to the space program as they are to have a chance to be part of it.”
How You Can Participate
Staying up to date on today's growing technologies and possibilities will allow students, engineers and designers to be ready to participate in crowdsourcing challenges.
"We are finding that thanks to 3D printing, there are things you can do now that have never been possible before," Rader explains.
“The combination of many promising technologies like evolving 3D printing technologies and large, passionate, expert crowds is powerful and will be key to staying competitive in the future,” concludes Rader.
Inspired to try a GrabCAD Challenge? Check out all our Challenges in the Community for your chance to participate!
About the author: (Daniel Dern)
Daniel P. Dern is an independent Boston-based technology, business and marketing writer. His articles have appeared everywhere from the Boston Globe and ComputerWorld to IEEE Spectrum and TechTarget. He was editor of Byte.com for several years, and the founding editor of Internet World Magazine. Daniel also writes science fiction and children's stories, and is an amateur magician.
All posts by Daniel Dern