Block A

John and James Swensen have built a 3D-printed, internet-connected replica Block “A” that automatically lights up blue when a Utah State team wins.

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Two brothers from Utah State University want to enhance the fan experience for their fellow Aggies. And they plan to do it through IOT technology — the internet of things.

John and James Swensen launched a Kickstarter in May for a 3D-printed miniature replica of the True Aggie Block “A.” Similar to the illuminated “A” on the Old Main Tower, the 3D-printed miniature announces victory for Aggie sports by lighting the “A” blue by way of a WiFi connection.

John said the user can customize the sports the device responds to (football, basketball, volleyball, etc.), and also has holiday color patterns as well.

An assistant professor at the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University, John said he and his brother received inspiration to create the product by the forum users. In 2015, one particular user inquired about building a replica of the True Aggie “A” in his front yard. John used his expertise in electrical engineering and robotics and ran with the idea of building miniature Aggie memorabilia.

“Well, let’s make a smaller one,” John said, reflecting on the forum inspiration. John went on to build a smaller prototype of the True Aggie Block “A” that year.

In May 2019, John and James took the next step forward in launching a crowdfunding campaign and navigating the process of getting the product officially licensed with the University and the NCAA — a process that took the better part of six months.

“It was a lot of waiting,” John said, explaining that the licensing products should be much easier in the future. “Now that we have one school done, it’s much easier to get another school done.”

John said he used the funds from crowdfunding campaign to purchase 3D printing equipment that he operates from his home. Though the initial crowdfunding campaign yielded around 90 miniature replicas, and he’s since shipped another 40. John said it takes nearly six hours to complete one device.

“The thing is that it’s slow,” he said of 3D printing.

Injection-molded plastics are initially more expensive but could be used for higher levels of production, John said.

John said he tries to keep his website updated with current stock, but an influx of orders could push shipping the memorabilia back. He said there is interest in creating products for other universities in Utah, as well as stocking their products in Aggie merchandising stores.

“We’re working like crazy — printing 24/7,” John said.

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