Meet Stanford Moonshot Club: The ones behind the viral motorized couch

April 16, 2023, 10:22 p.m.

When he first arrived on campus, Jason Lin ’25 noticed something about Stanford students: they love tinkering with different objects in hopes of building something new. 

“I just kept on noticing people all over campus building incredible things out of their own pocket,” Lin said, recalling one student who was building a fingerprint scanner to open doors. 

But, Lin says he felt something was missing. Everyone was working on projects in their own dorms, but there wasn’t a central network for everyone to meet and work together. 

He wasn’t alone in this feeling; Lin’s friend Elijah Kim ’25 noted that despite the existence of other engineering clubs, it was difficult to find a space to build “fun, wacky projects” that didn’t fit into any specific category. 

That’s when Lin, Kim and a few other students decided to start Stanford Moonshot Club, a student organization dedicated to what Lin calls “inclusive tinkering.”

“What we want to do is create these spaces for people that might be newer to engineering to really work on these projects with an inclusive community and feel empowered to do these projects,” Lin said.

Moonshot Club has produced a number of projects since its founding this year, from making dice for board games to cloaks for costumes. More recently, the club showcased its motorized couch around campus and on social media. A TikTok video of the couch posted by Lin has garnered over a million views on TikTok, even catching the attention of Microsoft Education, which commented under the viral TikTok, “Going to class in style.”

The now-famous couch is dark blue and propped up on a wooden frame. It’s big enough to seat three people, although the viral video of it only shows one person riding at a time. To drive the couch, users steer it with a joystick.  

Charlie Nicks ’25 saw the couch moving as she was walking to class one day. She had already heard about the couch from her friend, Scott Hickmann ’25, who was working on the project. Once she finally did get to see the couch, she says it “brightened her day.” 

“I wasn’t particularly surprised [to see the couch] — more just happy to see a Stanford student doing Stanford student things,” Nicks said. “A lot of my friend group consists of people who enjoy making things, and I do too, so it’s great to be in an environment where that’s celebrated and mainstream rather than seen as weird.”

Charlie Kogen ’24, saw the couch on Instagram and was reminded of a segment from “Impractical Jokers” where a character was riding on a suitcase. “[The couch] is just kind of goofy. I enjoy the frivolity of it, but it could be beneficial to people,” Kogen said. 

Other students also described the couch as goofy or as something that made them appreciate attending Stanford. 

“I feel like I would buy that spontaneously when wine-drunk,” Krishnan Nair ’22 MS ’23 said. 

Nicole Segaran ’25, one of the club’s co-founders, felt she benefited from the space provided by Moonshot Club. When she thinks of some of the other engineering clubs at Stanford, she feels that sometimes she’s limited in the kinds of projects she gets to work on. Rather than joining a club that had a specific niche or interest, she wanted to be part of a space where she could experiment more broadly with different ideas —  and Moonshot gave her just that. 

The motorized couch specifically was something Lin, Kim and their friend Lawton Skaling ’25 had been working on before the club’s founding, spending days driving back and forth to Home Depot to find the perfect wooden planks. 

According to Skaling, the group initially “took a couch from Crothers and then made a wooden frame, which cost like $40 of wood, and then put Jason’s electric skateboard underneath it.” 

“Early versions had two electric skateboards under there, but that was bad because you can’t really turn, otherwise the skateboards fly out,” Lin said. Now, instead of two skateboards, the couch is powered by two motors similar to ones on electric scooters.  

The group didn’t really start to hone in on the project until they founded Moonshot Club and started hosting building sessions for this specific project. According to Hickmann, once the club received funding from the ASSU, they were able to really get to work on the couch.

Stanford Moonshot Club received about $10,000 from the Undergraduate Student Council (UGS) for the 2022-2023 academic year. 

The initial iteration of the couch ended up costing Lin, Kim and Skaling around $300, which was money that the group pooled from their own pockets. With ASSU funding, the group was able to afford higher quality materials and ended up spending around $1,000 on their project.  

After purchasing better quality materials and one whole quarter of building later, the motorized couch was up and zooming through campus. 

As a member of the club, Hickmann was able to work mostly on the software for the couch and helped make the couch semi-autonomous. In other words, the couch is programmed to be able to follow someone who is wearing a green shirt. In the future, Hickmann and other members of the club hope to program the couch so it can be fully self-driving.

“I don’t know how that’s going to turn out, but if that ends up working, that would be absolutely incredible,” Hickmann said. 

“I did not tinker before college, and so, I’m also fairly new to all of this. And one of the things that I’ve realized is, buying parts for projects is really hard,” Lin said. “They come from suppliers from all over the place.”

Despite the challenges, Lin is thankful for the community he has built at Moonshot Club — a sentiment shared by some of his fellow club members. 

Julia Gershon ’25 found herself struggling to find a space for her creative endeavors. During quarantine, Gershon got into Dungeons and Dragons and began making her own dice for the game. 

On campus, however, she struggled to find ways to sustain her passion. Between the campus arts grants she had to continuously apply for and the restrictions she found working in the Product Realization Lab, she felt that there wasn’t a more informal space for her to make her dice.

With Moonshot Club, Gershon says she found that informal space for her dice-making.  

“I think it’s a really good project because it’s a way to sort of combine the arts and the sciences, which is something we’re really passionate about,” Gershon said. “We want to make space for sort of the stereotypically creative people as well as the people who are creative in ways that you might not originally consider.”

As for future projects, Moonshot Club is considering everything from a calendar that generates a new poem each day to education-based chatbots to a selfie bot. Whatever the project may be, club members say they hope that future projects bring the same wow factor and campus enthusiasm as the motorized couch. 

“Our club is called Moonshot. We do want to shoot for the moon,” Segaran said.

Carolyn Stein serves as the Magazine Editor for Vol. 263. She is double majoring in communications and East Asian studies. Her favorite activity is going on unnecessarily long walks. Contact her at news 'at'

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