Students display projects at tech fest
Brandeis MakerLab hosted its first annual Tech Fest on May 2 in the lounge outside Rapaporte Treasure Hall. This event showcased an array of technological projects, ranging from hard robotics to 3-D printed art.
Jacob Smith ’21 presented the Robotics Club’s work on two Zumo robots –– small cars with tank-style tracks equipped with a programming platform to control their actions. Smith explained that the goal of the Zumo project is to make the robots play a Sumo match, reset after each match and keep a record of the results. So far, the club has managed to keep the robots in their sumo ring, programming them to sense the edge and veer away. The Zumo robot is equipped with sensors that measure the brightness of the ground, returning a number around 0 for white, around 1000 for grey and around 2000 for black. One of the club’s accomplishments has been to calibrate the numbers to their respective colors, simplifying the coding process.
The club has made the user-friendliness of the Zumos a central goal. The challenge of working with Zumos, Smith said, is that “when something doesn’t work you don’t know … whether it’s your fault or the robot’s fault.” He explained that this challenge is reduced when the code is easy to understand. In addition, the club is “documenting everything [they] are doing … so anyone else who wants to know about this can hopefully not have to do all the research we did.”
Next to Smith’s project was “Toast Sandwich,” a computer game created by Anthony Fong ’21. The goal of the game is to pile ingredients onto a toast without letting it fall off the counter. Different levels of the game determined the speed of the falling ingredients. In case a player did not know what a toast sandwich was, Fong helpfully provided a screenshot of a toast sandwich google search.
Another showcase was a video of “EcoSort,” a machine that sorts waste into compost, recycling and trash. Creators Ben Segal ’20 and Clark University student Geva Segal ’21 were in Seattle, Washington, presenting the project for the semifinals of the Microsoft Imagine Cup. According to Tim Hebert, a robotics consultant for the Makerlab, the two ranked around 40th out of 40,000 competitors. Hebert explained that the sensor is composed of 3D-printed parts and operates by “a carriage system that is able to autonomously move to very specific locations.” The sensor has a camera on top to process the trash and a universal gripper to grab the trash and move it to the correct waste bin.
Nickole Huang ’19 presented her senior capstone project –– an app that provides an augmented reality experience of the Mark Dion collection in the Rose Art Museum. Huang explained that her goal was to “help the user delve deeper into the period of the exhibit.” For example, if a user pointed their phone at a 1960s-era TV screen, one of the objects on display, the app would pull up 1960s television channels that they could actually flip through. After the user finished exploring an object, they could unlock a puzzle piece which would assemble into a collage of images related to the collection. Huang said that while she has found her project rewarding, she is not sure if she will continue working on it because she is graduating this year.
River Heisler ’19 presented the pieces of his Maker-in-Residence project: a model train set. Although the train set was complete enough to be assembled, it would not have fit in the tech fest venue. The Maker in residence program is sponsored by the MakerLab, awarding a sum of money to students for a technology-related project. The program gave Heisler a sum of around $1,100 to $1,200 to purchase supplies for his project, but 95 percent of the project was 3D-printed, and therefore free, he said. Although Heisler spent two years working on the train set, he said it ultimately required far more time than he was able to give to it, and that it was unlikely he would finish the project before he graduated. The project took a long time because he set the 3D printer on a slow setting to “get finer detail and less imperfections.” A 100-millimeter piece of track would take around Heisler around three hours to create. In addition, Heisler explained that half of his attempts would fail, further lengthening the time required for each component.
Another presenter was Scott Lerner ’22, a post-baccalaureate student studying studio art. Lerner showcased a collection of his 3D-printed sculptures. One was an adaptation of “Laocoön and His Sons,” a famous sculpture in the Vatican. Lerner 3D-printed a file combining seven versions of the statue and used a heat gun to warp the material connecting the statues, creating a “schism effect.” Additionally, two relief sculptures depicted scenes from recent news panel discussions. Lerner explained that he wished to present the panelists “removed from the context, so you couldn’t tell what they were arguing about … you couldn’t just decide what camp to lump yourself in with.” The last sculpture featured an image of two women from a 1960s-era women’s hairstyle magazine, sanded down and painted over to create a “geological effect.”
Lauren Hayashi ’20 presented a neuroscience project studying the visual pathway for ferrets. Hayashi mainly focused on the project’s technological aspects, explaining that her research group was in the process of developing a new electrode to continue their work. According to Hayashi, the previous electrodes degraded too quickly, hindering the accuracy of their results.
David Bressler ’20, part of Hayashi’s research group, presented two other projects he was working on. The first was a bio printer, whose original purpose was to print cell tissue, but which Bressler redesigned to print liquid gel for medicine tablets. Next, Bressler presented the work of the Prosthetics Club. He explained that the club is a chapter of an international program called e-NABLE, which connects people requesting prosthetics with program members who will 3D-print the desired prosthetic. He showed a video of a child in Washington, D.C., who had requested an Iron Man-style hand. According to Bressler, the company focuses on providing prosthetics for children who will outgrow them. While advanced prosthetics can cost tens of thousands of dollars, 3D-printed prosthetics only cost around $30.