This semester, I’m taking a class in the Information Science department called Introduction to Rapid Prototyping and Physical Computing. So far, we have been introduced to programming with Arduino, and have been learning to use different sensors through a variety of projects. Prior to this class, I had experience with software, but had never really explored the world of hardware. It was something that I was interested in learning, and something that I would have probably wanted to pick up on my own anyway, even if it wasn’t offered as a class. The work does not feel like work as much as just something interesting that I’m learning. For me, it’s a class that doesn’t really feel like a class.
This week, we had an assignment due in which the only requirement was to use a certain component in our design, an RGB LED light. Other than that, we were encouraged to be creative and have fun with whatever we designed. Some students, maybe even myself in the past, would cringe at such an open-ended assignment because there are no clear requirements, other than the one. One thing that typically causes worry with such open-ended assignments is grades. During my time at Cornell, one thing I have learned is that I usually have more fun, and learn more if I keep grades a secondary thought with these kinds of projects. Yes, they’re important, but if you create something you’re proud of and learn throughout the process, shouldn’t that count for something? Also, from my experience, focusing on having fun and learning, often results in good grades anyway.
As an example of the kinds of things that we get to design in the class, below is the video from my assignment. I combined two of my passions, running and technology, to create a running light which is designed to be attached to a runner’s sneaker. The runner can change the color of the light by pushing a button, and the light changes brightness depending on how bright it is outside using an ambient light sensor. I also used a gyroscope to make the light blink when the runner is moving.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m really excited that I’m taking this class. We’ll be continuing to work with Arduino, and also get to do some laser cutting and 3D printing. We also have a very open-ended final project, in which my group and I are designing and building a basketball-shooting robot. I’m looking forward to seeing how it turns out, and will post a video of the final product in a later blog post. If you ever have the opportunity to take a class like this, even if you have limited software or hardware experience and it seems like unchartered territory, I would highly recommend taking it. You will learn a ton about the way things work. More generally, if you find a class that doesn’t feel like a class, you’re probably in the right place.