Over the summer ACU sought out a way to combine creativity and technology to create an interactive decoration for the newly innovated quad. We asked one of the faculty on staff, Brent Reeves, who helped make this happen a few questions, but to read even more about the project go to https://www.viget.com/work/lightwalk
What made you want to be involved with building the this sculpture?
Nil Santana teaches Art and serves as director of the Maker Lab. He invited several faculty to work on the project that was to “combine science and technology and art.” Hardware, software, possible blinking lights – that sounded great!
Explain what your role was for setting up and planning for the sculpture.
I worked with Nil to research outdoor installations and build prototypes of light-ish things, for example different configurations of RGB LED strips. We met with the donors, proposed potential hardware-and-software things. We had weekly meetings with Viget about hardware and software issues.
In very simple terms explain what you did in creating the app to control lights?
We realized we wouldn’t have time to build the hardware and write the software here at ACU, so we wrote a request-for-proposal and received a bid from a consulting firm named Viget. The system they made consists of a server in the cloud and 35 computers buried in the ground. Each computer has WiFi and is responsible for driving the LEDs on 10 reeds. Overall there are 350 reeds and about 20,000 leds.
One nice thing about the app is that it isn’t an app. You don’t have to install anything on your phone. Instead, you use a browser to visit lightwalk.acu.edu to choose an effect. The server in the cloud sends a message to one of the computers in the ground telling it which effect to run. In turn, it tells its 34 neighbors what to do next.
What sort of team did u assemble to get the job done?
The ACU team consisted of students and faculty and staff. For example, Scot Colley had to hire electricians to install a new transformer in the quad. The Viget team include hardware and software engineers.
Is there anything else that you would want to say about this project?
Cole Spears is the first ACU student to design an effect (called “Shimmer”) that is now running live on the system. Next Thursday, Oct 19, after SITC “3:16” chapel, we will have a brief tutorial session on how to make effects. So any student interested in making cool effects should join us.
For this week’s blog we talked to Rachael Shudde a Senior Computer Science and Math math major from Ovalo, TX, and what she did this summer!
What did you do this summer and where did you go? What was your job? What did your average day look like?
I worked at NASA Langley as an intern in the Safety Critical Avionics Systems Branch. I worked to develop software for the NASA DAIDALUS program. This program’s goal is to automatically reroute plans on a collision course.
What motivated you to get this internship? How did you achieve this?
I really wanted to work in aerospace, and I knew that NASA looked for math interns. I also wanted to go out of Texas for the summer. Applying to NASA was a long process, but it was definitely worth it.
What was the most useful thing you’ve learned in class that you were able to apply during your internship?
Honestly, outside of technical skills, class and work were such different environments that I cannot compare them. In class, you can always ask a professor or peer for help. However, this summer, no one knew the answers to my questions all of the time. I had to learn to problem solve without the backup of a professor.
Did this summer change your perspective on business and technology and how those operate in the real world?
Yes! It made me confident in my choice of major. At NASA, my branch operated with out a lot of overhead management. Everyone know their job and did it well. What I learned is that the best skill to learn is how to teach yourself.
What was the most insightful/funniest/strangest thing that someone said to you or happened to you this summer
Someone told me, “I rewrite my code all of the time. Even if it works. There’s always a better or more efficient way to solve problems.”
Do you have any advice for students who might be considering a similar path?
All the interns at NASA I met had the similar quality that they loved learning and problem solving. Demonstrating that through taking hard classes not required by your major is one way to show a love for learning (no one there cared about GPA).
Overall, what was your biggest takeaway from this summer?
The foundations of success are the ability to learn well, not necessarily mastery of one skill.
This summer one of our very own, Nevan Simone, had the opportunity to intern with NASA at Langley Research Center in Virginia. Nevan is a senior computer science major from Denton, Texas. His job at NASA was standard software engineering and he was assigned to create various databases for the information the team was collecting as well as build a UI for easier access to that data. Nevan’s average day included getting to work between 8 and 9 a.m., coding, documenting, and testing until noon, take a lunch break and continue the same thing until 5p.m.. In addition to the various daily tasks assigned to him, he also had a mentor who he met with during the day to help guide him and answer any questions he had.
Nevan says that he has always admired the vision and work of NASA, particularly in the astronaut program, and he was very excited to be a part of any portion of NASA’s work. In addition, this job appealed to him because he was wanted to branch out beyond the typical companies that hire for software engineering and to find more alluring projects. To get the internship, Nevan applied to NASA’s one-stop-shop-initiative (OSSI) for internships. This is the primary resource for researching and applying for a NASA internship. Due to the amount of internships available and the great diversity in the kinds of work there, he was able to find something that not only fit his skill set but was also appealing.
The most useful thing Nevan learned in class that he was able to apply during the beginning of the internship was all the practical elements of his software engineering class taught by Dr. Reeves. The later part of the internship required him to use material from Human Computer Interaction taught by Professor Prather. When work was slow, he found the most productive work option was to review Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krugs, which in fact is a book required for the HCI class.
Nevan comments that the internship did have an impact on his perspective of business and technology; his biggest take-away from the summer was that everything operates on a budget. He found it interesting that the available resources and the scope of the project depended on how much money leaders determine the project is worth. His best experience working there was being involved with Langley during its year-long 100th anniversary celebration. He was even able to attend the official birthday celebration where there was a field created to showcase the work that NASA has accomplished over the past century. Overall, his favorite part of the summer was realizing he was truly excited to continue work for NASA once he finishes his education. Nevan said that the drive provided by the nature of the projects energized him more than any thought of experience for his resume or finally making a living.