By Robert Creenan
Something is cooking in the rooms of Science Hall. Or some things to more accurately put it. The Canisius College Physics Club, headed by Jon Mrowczynski and Chrissy Colson, build plenty of contraptions in their free time outside of class. And some of them have plenty of real world applications.
Mrowczynski and Colson helped build the club’s 3-D printer, which has the capabilities of printing out Darth Vader heads, gears, and mathematical equations. “This printer took about a year and a half to build, mostly to gather all the parts,” Mrowczynski said. “We would often put the parts together, then realize we forgot to put in a motor somewhere, so we would have to disassemble again.”
The major project the club created was Jim, an emotionally expressive robot head made out of Legos and felt. Jim has the abilities to its mouth up and down, to curl its upper lip to make a frown or smile, to move its eyebrows, and “blink” using its two LED eyeball lights.
Mrowczynski says that his head hasn’t reached it’s full potential yet, with future plans including giving Jim “voice synthesis capabilities,” where his voice would have to be recorded beforehand, and “facial recognition” through the use of a Kinect.
Jim’s systems would need to be improved as well, as the 3-D printer would make his new plastic components. He also wants to build a laser cutter, named “Mr. Beam,” to make the circuit parts more easily, along with making them double-sided.
The physics club took Jim to a robotics conference in Quebec City over the summer, where not only was it well received, but was also featured as the poster presentation for the education portion of the conference. It certainly saved the club’s showing at the conference after a chess playing robot they designed malfunctioned during its demonstration.
Mrowczynski hopes that Jim could be used for the autism research department so it help kids learn about emotions. “He can say ‘Show me your happy face’ and the kid will respond with their face, and Jim will say, ‘Good job.’” Mrowczynski said. “Or if the kid gives a wrong face, he’ll show the correct one.”
When it comes to new students taking part, Colson said that “anyone can jump on at anytime. We didn’t know what we were doing when we started.” Mrowczynski also said that, “I didn’t know how to code computer software when I started working on Jim, and I coded it all within three months.”
“When a student usually starts out,” Mrowczynski said,” they’ll work on something like a music effects box and a starter kit introducing you different components. We’re open to anyone building anything; other people have made a radio, a Pong controller, and a mini synth drum kit.
It’s not just all student ideas that the club takes on. Two Digital Media Arts professors, Jamie O’Neil and Bill Sack, are working on Electroskip, where sensors would be placed on the soles and heels of shoes. ‘When it detects peaks, such as when a dancer stomps down, it plays a note,” Mrowczynski stated. “The end-goal there is to get dancers to accompany themselves when they dance. I’m also working on an app for it as well, so anyone can control the sensors from any wireless device.”
Some of these projects have been used in classes taught here at Canisius. Jim has been integrated into Dr. Burhans’ computer science course and the intelligent systems course, where his facial recognition and speech synthesis are key components of the class. Jamie O’Neil wants to use the 3-D printer for his DMA courses where students can print out their own designed objects. And one of the electronics classes would introduce students to the kind of circuitry found in Jim.
The physics club is always open to anyone with a passing interest in science and doing DIY work.