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- The Fence
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The entrance of Hamerschlag Hall is normally a tranquil place, with students going to and fro on their way to classes. But today, it’s anything but calm. Hordes of people are squeezing past each other, trying to get to one of the tables lining the hall. It’s all part of Build18, an event put on by the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department in which student teams are given one week at the beginning of the semester to design and create a product. Now that the week has ended, the hall reverberates with the sounds of motors running and tools clanging as last-minute tweaks are made before the inventors can show off their work.
At each table, a team displays its project, created not for a competition—but in the spirit of having fun and taking knowledge outside the classroom. Near the front of the hall, Billy Keyes (E’12) stands, wearing an unusual-looking hat. As soon as anyone approaches, he and another team member, Emily Grove (E’13), enthusiastically explain what they’re doing. Their hat is actually a personal soundtrack device. Covered in sensors, it monitors information such as light level and the wearer’s pulse to create a soundtrack fitting the situation. For example, the hat would play a lively high-pitched accompaniment for someone skipping outside in bright sun.
Just one hour ago, Keyes, Grove, and Ben Cowley (E’12), the team’s third member, were scrambling to put the hat together. After spending all week working out the technology, they sat in a lab with not enough thread to attach the sensors to the hat. Five minutes before demo time, they finished attaching the parts as best they could, using tape to affix the light sensor to the front.
The minor imperfections in the final product matter little. Build18 isn’t about creating a polished product, though Cowley and his team think there could be practical uses for a linked system of sensors like this, perhaps to monitor a patient’s vital signs outside a hospital, for example.
After the Build18 exhibition, Keyes heads home, deciding to leave on the hat. Perky at first, the music gets spookier as evening comes and the light fades. It sounds like a chorus of evil, as if a monster will jump out from the shadows any second. When he opens his front door, though, and his pulse calms down, so too does the melody, providing a perfect complement to a warm, dimly lit room.
—Olivia London (DC’13)
Students Host Third Annual Build18 Festival