Video by Daniel Nemroff ’15
Every year, for as long as STEAM has been running, which so far is only two years, some students in STEAM try to give a holiday gift to the school. BC, my computer science and STEAM teacher, originally had the concept of creating this project which used a Makey Makey. A Makey Makey is a device that is activated by completing circuits. It connects to a computer through a USB port and sends signals to the computer of apparent key presses. Using this, we would have multiple objects at various distances away from each other, with one object acting as ground and the others carried the current. If people touched the ground object and another object with a human chain, a circuit would be completed. This would cause the Makey Makey to send a signal to the computer, which would play a song. BC and I drew up a little sketch on the whiteboard to show the details of how it would eventually work.
This model had the most important elements of a gift to the school. It was interactive and fun, it put smiles on people’s faces , and it allowed the users to feel a sense of community as they held hands to accomplish a common goal: make the longest human chain possible in order to complete the circuit.
As the project developed, we decided to make the conductive platforms, which we called “interaction points,” into conductive hands mounted onto the walls and have a total of nine total hands. These interaction points were as close as two feet from each other and as far as two flights of stairs away from each other.
Our first prototype was made on Scratch, a program I had never used before. I found that the program was easy to use, but I found that I could not customize the application as much as I wanted. The Scratch program had two problems: it did not allow me to include a song randomizer, in which one random song would play from a list of possible songs, and it restarted the song each time a fifth of a second elapsed while the circuit was still complete.
These problems could be addressed in a Processing program, so the next step was to write a program that randomly picked and played songs from a list of songs. I had never used Processing before so I got a significant amount of help from BC, Gianluca Tarquinio ’14, Louis Schlessinger ’14, and Alex Nichol ’15. Meanwhile, Krishna Kahn ’14, Sahva Gebrehiwet ’14, and I made a long list of songs and edited each song down into clips about 30 seconds long. In addition, Shira Prusky ’14 and Jenna Bergman ’15 were drawing outlines of one left hand and eight right hands on foam core squares with conductive paint to use as interaction points.
On Wednesday night, the night before our project’s premiere, I asked BC what we should name the project, and he told me that I had to decide. So after some thought, I came back the next morning with the name Project LEO: Love Each Other.
Finally, after two weeks of hard work, on Thursday morning, we were ready for the installation of the nine interaction points. Our setup of the interaction points involved four different parts: attaching wires to the hands, using putty to attach the hands to the walls, running the wires along the wall, and attaching them to the Makey Makey (which was my job). These parts of the process were not necessarily done in order, because we had to do each of these steps a total of nine times. This setup only took us about an hour, which was made possible by all of the members of STEAM who gave up time working on their own projects to help me alongside those listed above. It was a lot of fun to have everyone working on it, and it would not have been installed on time if it had not been for their help.
I think that people really enjoyed LEO because it was interactive and inclusive. No one would be excluded from playing with this project; no matter how crowded it was, there was always room for more people in a chain. For this reason, whole classes, such as my Computer Science class and many Middle School classes took field trips to see LEO. Even the first and fifth grades, who happened to be on an actual field trip to the Upper School, had time to see our project. Hopefully, this was a bonding experience for the community.
One Middle School class happened to be visiting LEO while I was checking up on it, and so they decided to interview me. They asked some very interesting questions about the process of setting it up and how it worked. Hopefully, I have answered these questions in this blog entry. If you have any questions about the process, setup, or anything else, feel free to leave a comment, and I would be more than glad to answer it.
In the process of building Project LEO, I learned a lot about programs such as Scratch and Processing which have translated into my knowledge of other programing languages as well. I also showed a full class of Middle Schoolers the power of computers and introduced them to technologies such as the Makey Makey. I was also pleased by how much of an effect LEO had on the students that used it. I assumed they enjoyed it, because I witnessed some of my classmates walking into class singing songs that they had heard from LEO. In my opinion, Project LEO was a huge success and allowed a lot of students to go to winter break on a good note.
Class of 2015