MTech Students Show How To Move It, Move It 

An interactive wall art created as part of the Project Design Workshop fits the specs of an online contest bagging the second place.  

The inaugural batch of the MTech program in Product Design and Management at IIITH is in a celebratory mood. The class comprising of Vinaya Gopi, Anuj Malviya, Josh Joy, Krishna Sandilya, Srinivas Saladi, Bhargava Tadi, Venkat Sai, and Poorna Chandra has walked away with the second place in the Make It Move challenge conducted by Autodesk Instructables – an online community of makers and innovators who document their projects in order to share it with others. The platform conducts various contests inviting people to share their creations – from circuits to furniture to crafts to food – via text, photos, video and files. The Make It Move contest invited projects with movement. As per the contest directives, it could include flying, running, walking, rolling on wheels, floating, articulating appendages, opening and closing and much more.

Mandatory Project Fits Contest Bill
A two-month-long Product Design Workshop forms an integral part of the MTech coursework. “This workshop is the first of its kind at the institute where we inculcate multidisciplinary problem-solving, i.e, going beyond software solutions,” says Prakash Yalla, Professor of Practice who is the lead instructor of the course. He adds that the course presents challenges that require students to take product design decisions using rapid prototyping techniques and tools at the Makers Lab. As a fitting finale to the course, students were asked to produce a collaborative interactive wall art project. Explaining why a multidisciplinary task was zeroed upon, Prof. Raghu Reddy, Head of the Software Engineering Research Centre says, “Given the diverse background of the students, the aim was to bring forward their respective expertise. For example, some students are from the Computer Science background, some are from the Mechanical side, while some others had experience in managing projects. Such a project would require all of them to work “together” in a collaborative manner.” Whilst working on this, Josh who is a regular contributor to the Instructables platform, discovered that their project was a perfect fit for the Make It Move contest and submitted their joint entry. Josh recently won the second prize in the Circuits Remote Control contest for successfully converting an old exercise bike into a gamepad.

What They Made
The team utilised technology in a creative manner in order to let the audience engage with the artwork. “The idea was also to make it a fun experience,” quips Josh. For this, they initially built an electro-mechanical tile consisting of 16 servo motors to move LEDs forward and backward. The tile could either be used individually or assembled with multiple other tiles to create a large “wall”.  When a user’s palm approaches the tile(s), the tiles move, creating interesting visual effects and patterns. This has been made possible with the help of a camera and computer vision that tracks palm movement.

How They Built It
While the initial prototypes were made with 3D printers from the Makers Lab, for the final version, they used a laser cutting machine and built it with MDF and acrylic. The acrylic sheets were assembled with individual cylinders, fitted with a rack and pinion mechanism driven by servo motors to provide movement. It was the sheer scale of the project that the team found challenging. “I have worked on similar electronics projects before but never controlled 16 motors that powered close to 990 LEDs. You can actually control the colour of each LED,” voices Josh.

The Team
“The biggest advantage of our project is our team with its complementing skills,” remarks Gopi. With his prior experience in Engineering equipment manufacturing, Gopi’s presence helped in planning, visualising, decision making and assembling the project, earning him the sobriquet of ‘Project Manager’ for the task. “While Josh and Krishna handled Electronics, Anuj and Srinivas took care of designing and prototyping; Venkat focussed on Computer Vision; and Poorna on Documentation. Bhargava and I looked after the assembling, procurement and machine works,” he elaborates.

First Of Many
“We were constrained by time and hence restricted ourselves to a small “wall”,” says Josh, adding that it would be cool if they could scale it to something bigger like tracking the entire body or creating a more complex interactive exchange where the lights change colour in response to dancing or jumping. “The interaction can be configured in multiple ways. It’s just a matter of changing code.” For Gopi, what’s particularly noteworthy is that with the exception of two electronic parts, all the other remaining parts of the Project were designed, fabricated, and assembled with professional level finishing in the Makers Lab. “The Instructables community has been around since 2005. Some of us used to get help from the platform for our school Science projects. So it was nice to win a contest conducted by it,” says Anuj. Expressing satisfaction at the way the workshop and its culminating project turned out, Prakash says, “The kinetic wall is the first set of lego blocks we have built on which we plan to create many more interactive art forms for everyone to experience in real time”.

Sarita Chebbi is a minimalist runner, practising yogi and baker of all things whole-wheat, and sugar-free. Currently re-learning her ABC’s…the one that goes: A for algorithm, B for Bayesian, C for convolutional (neural network)….

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