Student’s gifts for design, tech, and community unite in new Library Makerspace

Francisco Peralta’s enthusiasm for product design and technology is outpaced only by his love of outreach and collaboration. Co-founder of EnableTech, a student-run group that designs solutions to minimize the difficulties of disability, he’s excited about the new Makerspace in Moffitt Library for all those reasons.

The location, Peralta (‘18) says, couldn’t be better. “When a friend and I were first setting up the 3D printers, lots of people approached us to find out what we were doing.” Since the Makerspace is in an open space and not walled off, “it’s going to be a great ecosystem where everyone can communicate and collaborate.”

The 3D printers in Moffitt’s Makerspace enable users to create three dimensional objects by laying down successive layers of material. The advent of this technology has spurred on the Maker movement, a diverse subculture that is reconnecting people to the possibilities of hands-on creation and construction.

Francisco Peralta ('18), co-founder of EnableTech
Francisco Peralta (’18), co-founder of EnableTech (Photo by Aisha Hamilton for the University Library)

EnableTech was cofounded by Peralta with mechanical engineering students Drew MacPherson (’17) and Kevin Haninger (B.S.’12, M.S.’15). Peralta says, “It’s cool because EnableTech offers a platform where people with disabilities can get help. Could be someone like me with my prosthetic leg, or someone with Parkinson’s or in a wheelchair, who needs help with tasks like opening windows.” Current or potential projects include:

  • a glove that provides greater grip strength for people with spinal cord injuries
  • an app that will make it easier for people with physical disabilities to get emergency assistance, and
  • a low-cost robotic arm to assist people in wheelchairs.

Along with product design, prototyping and manufacturing, the organizational side of EnableTech is a focus for Peralta. As in industry, team projects follow timelines and multiple design reviews, including a final project review and self-evaluation. “I’m a perfectionist,” he acknowledges, “and I enjoy constantly thinking how to make things better and better.”

UC Berkeley’s long history with disability rights and the nationally recognized
Disabled Students’ Program were part of Peralta’s attraction to the school. “I couldn’t think of a better place to be,” says Peralta, who was born without a femur.

Raised in Chile and in southern California, Peralta studied robotics in high school and arrived at Berkeley as a mechanical engineering major. But when he took a cognitive science class suggested by a fraternity brother he “fell in love,” as he puts it, and changed his major.

“Understanding the brain will enable me to design better — and it also helps me to get through rough moments, like dealing with stress and setbacks.” This semester he is especially enjoying a philosophy course on the theory of meaning, which helps him “think more expansively about the world and about people.”

Despite the demands of his coursework and EnableTech, Peralta finds time for an active social life and for exercise. In October he participated in his second triathlon through the Challenged Athletes Foundation, completing the swimming relay. “I’ve learned enough about dopamine in my cognitive science classes to really appreciate the value of exercise!,” he says.

Support from the UC Berkeley Student Technology Fund made the purchase of Moffitt’s 3D printers possible. The venture represents a partnership between the University Library, Educational Technology Services, and Student Affairs Information Technology.