It’s Friday morning in the Kwok Engineering and Robotics Lab, just after Chapel and not long before Allhallows Eve.
“You’re going to need a Phillips head screwdriver,” Chris Odom tells the five students in his Autonomous Data Collection and Sensor Design class as they collect their plywood box jack-o’-lanterns and prepare to add stems he’d cut from branches.
“The wood just makes it so cute,” says Jade Arnone ’22, contemplating the choices for her koala-themed lantern.
In one afternoon, the class had selected drawings for their lanterns’ faces, edited the templates in Adobe Illustrator, and used a laser cutter to fabricate the boxes. Now, just in time for Halloween, they’re adding the finishing touches to the side project Odom offered as a fun break from their main project of creating a vehicular speed detector.
But there’s science in the fun, too.
Their designs had to be structurally sound as well as aesthetically pleasing, according to Sixth Former Zach Stellato, who opted for a Mandalorian-themed lantern. “I had to edit my template and add a few lines to make it work as a cutout,” he says.
For their pseudo pumpkins, students installed innards instead of scooping them out – a battery pack and a microcontroller brain, an RGB LED (which produces 16 million colors). They also wrote code to simulate a flickering candle; when they test their lanterns in a dark room, their jack-o’-lantern faces glow like the real thing.
For Makoto Irisumi ’22, coding was a new adventure. “I learned Java last year, but I didn’t get to do anything with it,” she says, inspecting her flickering final product. “This is really my first coding experience.”
Odom hopes the students will enjoy the lanterns in their houses. “SPS students are so good at working together, and that’s not easy,” he says.” They are all very intelligent and all very opinionated; they plan things out so well that projects are seamless, and that’s really exciting. In engineering, we call that integration.”