Digital Design Lab: High-School Inventor’s Paradise

Dustin Diep and Ahmed Gedi from Franklin HS, holding their F.A.F.

Here's Dustin (left) and Ahmed (right), holding their F.A.F.


regon MESA’s program called Digital Design Lab (D2L) allows young inventors to design and create their own projects, from start to finish, over the course of six weekend sessions. We had a chance to speak with two of those inventors, Dustin Diep and Ahmed Gedi from Franklin High School, and take a look at what they call the “Friggin’ Awesome Fedora.” The F.A.F. plays mp3 music and is controlled by buttons placed on the brim.

When they demonstrated it to GetReal, they played My Generation, by The Who. We recommend clicking that link and listening, while you read the rest of our exclusive story.

The F.A.F. uses the LilyPad, a special Arduino board specialized for crafts with fabric, and a couple other parts to allow the wearer to play music out of speakers, which they embedded into the crown of the fedora. They managed to get this up and running in just five weekend sessions at D2L, with only minimal independent work between sessions. See the pictures for yourself:

The FAF speakers and control buttons

The F.A.F. uses these four buttons to play music out of its green speakers. Good sound

The LilyPad Arduino exposed.

The LilyPad Arduino board, usually hidden behind the striped band, controls the F.A.F. music-playing systems.

View of the inside of the FAF; you can see the mp3-controller board, and some wires.

The built-in mp3-controller board, hidden inside the hat, sends audio signals to the speakers.

Image of the tiny battery used to power the FAF

Here's the tiny battery, which powers the F.A.F. To compare, notice the edge of the LilyPad board, at the bottom of the image.

Image of Dustin wearing the FAF

Dustin, who wore another fedora while he worked on the Friggin' Awesome Fedora, donated this one to the project. Here, he wears it for old time's sake.

Dustin and Ahmed, both proud to be Portlanders, got the idea when they first thought to make a glove-phone—a glove with speaker and microphone, which would answer when you made the “call me” hand gesture and held it to your head.

After some research, where they discovered how complex it would be to do—working with bluetooth and analog signals with Arduino gets pretty messy—Dustin and Ahmed decided to refine their idea to something that could fit into the remaining five sessions.

Image of Ahmed wearing the FAF

Ahmed, a classy young gent, demonstrates how one can tip the brim politely, while simultaneously activating the F.A.F.

Dustin and Ahmed have both worked on some interesting projects in the past. Dustin contributed to the FHS App project, an open-source web app which lets Franklin HS students follow relevant notifications.

The code is going to be used for a Franklin/Wilson community safety app, so residents can follow police notifications and the like (open-source is great!).

And Ahmed has been featured on D2L YouTube videos in the past, with a Simon Says game for Arduino. Both are hardworking and bright high-school students.

These two high school sophomores are already well on their way to building great portfolios of work they’ve done—just because they decided to turn one of their ideas into a reality.

See, every time you have an idea for an invention, you’ve got the potential to be an engineer. Some people might forget about those ideas, some might play with them, and some might even write them down in a notebook somewhere. But what do you do with those ideas?

If you’d like to take that idea, and turn it into a creation, you’re an engineer.

Have you ever wanted to make one of those invention ideas? Because through programs like Digital Design Lab, you can. Express your interest in having more D2L sessions by writing a short email to MESA.

Here’s a video of other D2L projects from a previous session.

Meet an OSU grad who gets to work on one of the coolest telescopes ever.


elcome back from the break, and we hope everyone is enjoying their winter term of school!

Today, we wanted to give you a great example of an Oregon college graduate who went on to do awesome things—the kinds of awesome things we talk about right here on Get Real!

Michael Thorburn graduated from Oregon State University some time ago, with a degree in mathematics. After that, he got a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.

From there he went on to do a whole slew of awesome stuff, including being named the head of the Department of Engineering for ALMA.

What’s ALMA? It’s what happens when scientists and engineers work together to make a super-telescope, with the power of its 66 combined individual telescopes. We mentioned it a while back. Also, check out this video that ALMA released.

Here's an image ALMA produced—this is what radio telescopes are capable of! Image by European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Here's about what the ALMA radio telescopes look like—these ones are the prototypes, gazing into the heavens. Image by ESO.

It stands for the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, because it’s a radio telescope which scans in the millimeter frequencies. As an awesome side-note, ALMA is Spanish for “soul.”

We’ve also talked about the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) which is a lot like ALMA. The differences are these: ALMA is much nearer completion (scheduled to be done in March, as opposed to SKA, whose construction begins in 2016); and SKA is going to be a bit bigger, since it’s newer.

Here's what the completed ALMA will look like. Image by ESO.

Why should you care about radio telescopes? Because you can look back in time—Because only travels so fast, the further away from Earth you can look, the older the stuff you see actually is.

“We can look at stars 13.5 billion light years away,” Thorburn said. “The Big Bang is said to have happened 13.7 billion years ago.”

Awesome engineering.

Read on:

When quadrotors and Kinects combine…


e haven’t talked about quadrotors, Kinect, and the cool engineering projects you can work on when you go to one of Oregon’s awesome engineering universities, in a while. But let it be known: the possibilities are endless, when you’re an engineer. And using a pre-invented idea like a quadrotor, or a pre-invented tool like the Kinect, is what engineering is all about: finding a creative new use for an existing tool.

Here’s the coolest part: in Oregon, quadrotor and Kinect projects are still fairly uncommon, so you can be one of the pioneers in the field, for our state.

Check out what MIT and and UW have done recently:

This project awesomely combines both quadrotors, and the Kinect.
Imagine doing something like this (or whatever you can think of)

Yeah, it’s kinda like that. Read some of the previous things we’ve talked about regarding quadrotors, and Kinect.

What skills will you need to work on a project like this, when you’re in college? It depends on what you want to do:

You could be the person who builds the quadrotor, which would make you a mechanical engineer; you’d need knowledge of physics, and an interest in building (did you ever enjoy LEGOs or something similar, or do you ever find yourself sketching designs for inventions or buildings?)

If you think you might like programming, think about the awesome things you could do one day by programming a Kinect.

You could also be the person who figures out how to connect the Kinect, power the propellers, wire this to the processor, and trasmit the data, which would make you an electrical engineer; you’d need a knowledge of some math and physics, and an interest in making things work (did you ever tinker with remotes or electronics, to figure out how they worked?)

Or, you could be the person who programs the built contraption, telling it how to balance itself in flight, map the room, navigate, or communicate the data, which would make you a computer scientist; you’d need a knowledge of math, and an interest in solving puzzles and problems (did you ever program your calculator to make math class easier, like solving riddles, or enjoy problem-solving brain games?)

The LED is 50 years old, yet it’s still brand new.


very now and then, an invention comes along which changes everything in a huge, drastic way. The printing press, the cotton gin, alternating current, the light bulb, or the internet, to name a few. Each of this did something drastic, and some people even split history into categories “before” and “after” one of these inventions.

Holonyak is the chair professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As you can tell from the bowtie.

Sometimes, it can take a while to realize just how drastic an invention is. Like the LED, for example. The light emitting diode is an amazingly efficient way to transform electricity into light (compared to regular light bulbs, which generate more heat than light). We’ve talked about this before. They’re so amazingly efficient, in fact, that LED bulbs are taking over every light market: brake lights, flashlights, HDTVs, and even common light bulbs are being replaced with LED counterparts.

The LED: it’s one of the biggest steps towards energy efficiency we’ve ever taken, because we use light everywhere, all the time.

Check out this awesome video featuring Nick Holonyak, the physicist who invented the LED.

It’s sort of a commercial for GE, but this video shows that Holonyak is clearly a regular guy who happens to be an expert physicist.

“My mother was an orphan; my dad was a coal miner. They were not educated. But they both knew that school was important.”

His point towards the end is the big one, though: everywhere you go it’s just lights lights lights and more lights. And the LED is revolutionary because it’s a more efficient way of producing light.

This revolution means re-thinking a lot of existing products, and it also opens the door for new ones to be invented. Light technology is a huge market in this world. Is it your job?

Read on:

Make some Noyce for the inventor of the microchip!

A young Robert Noyce sitting in front of some math and physics, which he majored in.

Today’s Google Doodle is a computer microchip, as you might have noticed. If you click it, you go to a page of search results for “Robert Noyce.” Who’s he? The Mayor of Silicon Valley, that’s who.

That’s an honorary title. Real mayors are cool, but we care more about electrical engineers and computer scientists who are cool enough to be called “mayor” just because. Okay, it’s not ‘just because.’ Along with a friend of his, Noyce invented the microchip, which is specifically what Silicon Valley is named for.

Noyce and his friend Kilby are what we at GetReal affectionately call OGs of electrical engineering.

There are a few interesting things to think about: Noyce became an electrical engineer; co-founded Fairchild Semiconductor, and then Intel later; and invented the microchip. When he was 12, he built a personal aircraft for himself, and ‘flew’ (probably glided) from the roof of a college.

But he never got a degree in engineering of any kind. He just did it. He did it because he loved it.

Does the first integrated circuit ever look like it was made with billion dollar research funding? It was made by some folks who were tinkerers. And they wanted to see what would happen.

What can you learn from Noyce? Don’t be too concerned with what degree you take. Find what you love and do it. Go to a local thrift store and buy old electronics to take apart, or play incessantly with LEGOs. Go with your folks to Home Depot and buy some PVC pipe; make bird house or a potato cannon or a ramp to jump your bike or skateboard off of.

Tinker with computers. Start a blog and mess with the coding to customize it, or make a mod for your favorite computer game. Figure out how to hack your Kinect. Make a game or program a robot.

And while you find what you love to tinker with, remember that once you get into college, you have a lot of opportunities. Engineering programs weren’t as common when Noyce was in school, but they’re everywhere now. Especially in Oregon. Because we want you to get out there and just do, without having to worry about any difficulties. And the best way to learn to do is by learning how to engineer.

College goes spacebound: PSU’s doing experiments on the ISS

It’s no surprise that PSU is a great place for engineers. Besides a really great sustainability department, there are some professors who really throw themselves at what they do by teaching at multiple levels.

The International Space Station: Facility of international earthen experiments

As it happens, PSU has also got myriad programs to make use of their awesome facilities. For example, one room in PSU’s engineering building is currently being used to monitor an experiment they’re conducting on the International Space Station.

And true to the nature of the ISS, it’s an international project. PSU is working with the University of Bremen, a German school. Because of time zone differences, the project can get the 24-hour management it needs.

The project itself is pretty cool, too. The two schools ares testing how fluids (fuel, in this case) behave in space, to reduce the amount of bubbling (which is bad, and common in zero-gravity) and increase efficiency.

It’s a big step up from the drop-towers both PSU and University of Bremen have, which can only give a few seconds of zero-gravity.

All the equipment for this experiment was sent up via space shuttle last year, but just got set up a bit less than a month ago, and data only started getting collected on the 21st of September. The data collection will continue through the 15th, and maybe as late as the 29th.


Read on:

Electrical and Computer Engineers are going to to lighten up

We all rely on radio waves and electricity for communications, and the circuits which make up our computers. But these are both notoriously volatile–you have to turn off your cell phone during takeoff so you don’t interfere with the pilot’s radio signal, and if you touch the circuits of a computer while it’s on, something’s toast (you or the computer).

But there are some new concepts and technologies which might fix this, and change the electrical/computer engineering world down the road. And they all have to do with light.

The first is a new technology which would let light act as a data transmitter for a wireless network. It’s got a limited range compared to radio waves, but if you think about it you have lights everywhere in your house. They could all be rigged to transmit. And according to this video, the lights don’t even have to be noticeably lit.

This technology has been nicknamed “LiFi”

Something like this would be really handy if there were a cheap way to rig every lightbulb in the world. Right now there’s not, but LED lightbulbs are just hitting the market, and an add-on to hook it up to a network wouldn’t be that tough. And according to a PhysOrg news article, this technology is intended to supplement existing networks, rather than replace it.

Another one was mentioned in our previous blog post: some Duke University electrical engineers developed a material as a ‘proof of concept,’ which allowed them to manipulate light that mimics how existing electronics manipulate electrons. This means that a future circuit board might instead use light–you could handle it without damaging anything. Light is also more efficient, since photons are faster when unimpeded. This one was to be expected, since internet lines around the country (world, really) are being replaced with fiber-optic cables. It’s because they’re faster, cheaper, and more reliable.

What does this mean for you? As a future electrical or computer engineer, you might have to work with the yet-to-be-established communication standards for LiFi. And computer engineers (or even computer scientists) might have to deal with fail-safe procedures, for what to do if the light source gets blocked.

It also means that we might be getting a new field of engineering: light engineers. They’re just like electrical engineers, but they might light computers. Lightputers. (There’s got to be a better pun for that)

Read what I read: