Our Neighbor: Otherlab
Occupying the historic pipe organ factory since 2011 and a 2nd building at 701 Alabama St since 2012, Otherlab is an independent research and design facility working on advanced technology in the energy, robotics, and educational fields. We explore and create advancements in energy production, storage and efficiency, medical devices, manufacturing, and more. We work with government and industry leaders on creating and commercializing better technologies for a sustainable future.
Founded by MacArthur Foundation Fellow, Saul Griffith in 2009, Saul’s passion for changing the face of design and engineering is at the heart of what Otherlab does. Rather than accepting the way things are he questions if they can be improved.
An example of this is Otherlab’s soft robots that interact with and adapt to their environments. Unlike traditional, rigid robots, these inflatable machines offer extremely high power to weight ratios, and can pack into small spaces. Imagine lightweight robots that can shoot up into space, or a comfortable exoskeleton that can be used as a medical brace. These inventions represent a fundamental shift to offer technology that is more accessible, safer, and lower cost. This year Otherlab is building robots for space for NASA, to go to the bottom of the ocean with the Navy, and for the world's fastest exoskeletons for our elite service-members.
Another example is Otherlab company Volute, which creates comformable gas tanks for cleaner vehicles. By creating a carbon fiber container for high pressure gas, Volute’s tank allows car designers to creatively fit the necessary 26+ gallons of compressed gas to run natural gas and hydrogen vehicles, without having to compromise driving range, cargo capacity and passenger space. These cars outperform gasoline run vehicles while emitting much lower levels of greenhouse gases.
Other projects include a materials team working on thermally adaptive fabrics that change thickness and insulation in response to the local thermal environment - imagine clothes and blankets that get warmer and cooler in response to the temperature of the environment.
Otherlab also hosts Howtoons, a company that creates educational kits for kids with instructional cartoons for fantastical and adventurous learning experiences in science and engineering.
On any given day a walk into Otherlab will reveal a variety of projects in various states of development. Typically funding is secured for early or risky ideas, some of which grow into large projects that spin out into their own businesses. Sunfolding is an Otherlab business that has created low cost and low maintenance solar trackers that eliminate unreliable components. The company secured a $1M grant from the California Energy Commission and spun out in 2016. Other Machine Company also sprung from Otherlab, and manufactures desktop CNC mills for rapid and highly precise prototyping in metal, wood, plastic, and printed circuit boards. They secured funding in 2012 to manufacture the Othermill, which they sell on othermachine.co, and moved to their own facility in North Berkeley in 2016.
Otherlab is composed of rigorous engineers, inventors, and designers and scientists, with the shared question, “Wouldn’t it be cool if you could engineer a better world?” We think so. Being a part of the 20th Street neighborhood has allowed us to contribute to and flourish in an environment that inspires creativity and community. Otherlab is composed of craftspeople and engineers and lies at the anomalous intersection of scrappy startups and craft artisans that make this neighborhood so special.