Innovation and creativity on display at 2016 Imagine RIT Festival

Tens of thousands come to ninth annual festival, showcasing more than 400 exhibits




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A. Sue Weisler

The ThermApparel team won an Al Sigl prize as part of Dr. Destler’s Access and Inclusion Technology Challenge.

Battling robots, portable coffee makers, glass blowing and devices to help people with mobility issues: These were just some of the more than 400 exhibits on display at the ninth annual Imagine RIT: Innovation and Creativity Festival.

The festival, which showcases the work of students, faculty and staff, opened with Dr. Destler’s Access and Inclusion Technology Challenge. The challenge, held in Clark Gymnasium, featured 16 student-team projects dedicated to the research and development of state-of-the-art technologies to improve access and inclusion for people with disabilities, with a specific task of making it easier to travel and shop. Projects ranged from all-terrain walkers and body temperature regulators for people with multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, to motor-assisted devices such as wheelchairs and standers, to speech-to-text recorders and sign-language accessibility tools for deaf and hard-of-hearing people.

Judges, a collection of community members, trustees and RIT deans, graded the teams on seven different criteria, including innovation, feasibility and product effectiveness, to select prize winners.

“We have a growing capability in the field of access technology and inclusion, and a lot of our students and faculty are working in this area,” Destler said. “It’s noble work and as visitors can see from these demonstrations, they’re quite creative. Some of them will even make their way into the marketplace and end up helping people live more inclusive lives.”

Taking first prize in the challenge was Playmobile: Motorized Pediatric Stander, a kit and accompanying app developed by a 13-member team of industrial design, business and engineering students. The device allows children with cerebral palsy to explore their environments and learn to move in a standing position. The team chose as its prize an antique banjo from Destler’s collection.

“They can move to the level of their peers, work with other kids at their level and play together,” said Paul Sira, a fifth-year industrial and systems engineering student from Catskill, N.Y. “It’s designed to serve as many people as possible, so it’s important that it’s marketable, easily assembled and affordable for parents and physical therapists.”

Elizabeth Stegner, an industrial design graduate student from Moscow, Idaho, also worked on the project.

“One of the most important things that we considered while designing this project is the fact that we want kids to be kids,” she said. “Seeing children use our design is completely worth it. In fact, it’s quite possibly the greatest thing ever.”

Taking second place – and a $1,000 prize - was the team from Intelligent Mobility Cane with Navigation, an assistive device for blind and deaf-blind people to help guide them as they move about and perform daily tasks. Third prize—$250 cash— was awarded to the motorized wheelchair team.

Two Al Sigl prizes, each valued at $250, were awarded to Sign Language Iconography and ThermApparel.

“These projects are all so impressive and ‘real-world,’” said Dan Phillips, faculty associate and lead—The Partnership for Effective Access Technology Research and Development at RIT. “It’s one thing to conduct ‘whiz-bang’ technology, but this takes it a step further and shows how this technology can affect people. It’s hard work during the year to produce these projects, but I have yet to not be impressed with the caliber of work developed by our students.”

Bees, blenders, bangs, big ideas and balderdash

The festival showed off the many student clubs on campus. Among the newest is the RIT Beekeeper’s Club, formed in February. Founder and President Austin Quinlan, a third-year film student from Marcellus, N.Y., showed visitors bees in a glass hive and explained colony collapse disorder, which is threatening the population of honeybees in the country.

“We formed our club in order to help save the honeybee population,” Quinlan said. The club expects to place three hives in the RIT Community Garden later this month, and eventually collect, filter and bottle the honey.

Next to the tiger statue, visitors stopped at a perennial favorite exhibit, the “Bike Blender,” where a smoothie was mixed using pedal power. Next to that exhibit, visitors sat on the grass and listened to the cadence of RIT Drumline, a new club of percussionists.

In the Campus Center, teams who competed in the National Technical Institute for the Deaf’s Next Big Idea competition greeted visitors to explain their concepts to help the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. Ideas included a device to help deaf-blind individuals improve communication with peers, a belt that could vibrate to alert the wearer of noise, and a software service that focuses on providing jobs, volunteer opportunities and networking for those who use American Sign Language.

Next to Liberal Arts hall, the School of Communication continued its annual tradition of “Wordistry.” Faculty put forth three made-up words: “Kickle,” “Barblery” and “Planciate,” and visitors were asked to come up with definitions. Winning the competition – and receiving an iPad – was a definition for “kickle” that said “to slowly take an object along a path, similar to dribbling a soccer ball.”

Engineering students making a splash

It takes engineers to solve the problem of mating mallards in backyard swimming pools.

Imagine visitors saw a demonstration of “Duck, Duck, Goose,” a deterrent system designed by RIT engineering students that is as practical as it is gentle.

Their customer was a local homeowner who just wanted a solution to remove a small family of ducks that had taken up residence in his backyard pool. He tried all sorts of devices from mechanical scarecrows to remote-controlled toy boats with no luck.

“He pretty much gave us carte blanche to do something,” said John Valus, a fifth-year electrical engineering student from Stratford, Conn., who worked on the project with four fellow engineering students.

They came up with a waterproof box filled with high-tech sensors and microprocessors that connects to a pool electrical outlet. Once sensors are triggered, water would squirt in a light stream toward the birds.

Imagine visitors dodged the water as the team demonstrated the sensors, and their system will be pool-tested now that the weather is warmer.

“We think it can be used not only for the ducks, but with the sensor technology, it could be designed to connect to smart phones,” he added. “What if a child was too close to the pool? This system could sense that and send an alert to family nearby.”

Mixing music and mediums

Inside the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences, a steady crowd of people streamed in and out of the New Media Design lab, where fourth-year students created a collaborative music remixing experience built as a prototype installation for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland.

According to Danny Lee, a fourth-year new media developer from Buffalo, N.Y., Rhapsody was designed after the Hall of Fame commissioned RIT students to develop a more modern and interactive exhibit to engage guests. The multimedia exhibit enabled Imagine RIT visitors to remix a classic rock song, while learning about the fundamentals of audio production in the music industry.

“After choosing songs to remix, they can collaborate on a multi-touch interface to create their own personalized mix and video on a massive projector,” Lee said. “People have been having a great time.”

Meanwhile, in the School for American Crafts inside Booth Hall, RIT alumni Rob Panek ’95 (computer engineering) and his wife, Christine, enjoyed watching faculty and students create original and intricate glass pieces inside the school’s “hot shop” with their sons, Nathan and Noah.

“These guys just love the glass blowing,” said Christine Panek ’01 (career and human resource development). “We’ve come to Imagine RIT every year except one.”

Science keeps an eye on cereal

What’s a fun way to demonstrate surface tension, buoyancy and the meniscus effect, and how they apply to the human eye? Try using a bowl of cereal.

As individual Cheerios clump together (a phenomenon dubbed “the Cheerios Effect”) the milk climbs higher up the sides of the cereal. A similar mechanism causes the film of tears lubricating the eye to thin near the margin of the eyelids.

Exhibit organizer Kara Maki, assistant professor in RIT’s School of Mathematical Sciences, uses mathematical concepts to study how fluids move across a surface and, in particular, how tears flow over the eye. Her research is helping ophthalmologists to better understand dry eye, a condition without a cure.

Maki is mathematically modeling a blinking eye to explore how the motion redistributes tear film.

Assisting at the exhibit were past participants from RIT’s Summer Math Applications in Science with Hands-on Experience for Girls. Maki, director of the SMASH program, encouraged them to volunteer at the exhibit and demonstrate the concepts of the Cheerio Effect.

Noli Belachew, 15, from Brighton, N.Y., and Avye Stathopoulos, 14, from Webster, N.Y., were eager to explain surface tension to visitors and to talk about the benefits of SMASH.

Belachew signed up for SMASH in 2014, the first year it was offered, to get a new perspective on math.

“It provides a better understanding of math,” Belachew said. “I had an extra boost of confidence when taking exams.”

Stathopoulos also gained from the experience and from presenting her results from the weeklong project to parents and SMASH sponsors.

“I’m better with my public speaking skills because of SMASH,” Strathopoulos said.

Getting lost in the Computer Zone

It can be easy to get lost at a campus-wide festival, but kids of all ages visiting the Computer Zone at the B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences had fun doing so, as they could walk through two life-size mazes.

The first maze required participants to get from the entrance to the exit without making any left turns.

It took Matthew Heale, 15, of Rochester, several times before he completed it. “Everything has to have an end, so I visualized that from the start and then I kept making those right turns to the finish,” said Heale, who would love to attend RIT.

Zack Butler, associate professor of computer science who designed the mazes, said the second, three-color maze was the real challenge. “It’s really, really hard, but it can be done,” he said. “This exhibit is challenging enough to be solved by humans, and it’s also interesting enough for computer scientists to think about the ways computers solve mazes step by step through algorithms. Is there more than one solution? Is your solution the shortest one? We want visitors to know that these are the sort of questions we answer in the field of computer science.”

Cabin Fever? There’s an app for that

Want to know what’s going on this weekend? Looking for a new dining experience for your family? Where is the nearest sports event—and can I get tickets to the game for under $10?

All these questions can be answered with “Cabin Fever,” an app and searchable database created by RIT alumni Randy Havens ’10 (computer engineering technology) and Brendan Parker ’07, ’10 (new media information development and information technology) and fourth-year information technology student Emanuel Aliprantis from Dayton, N.J.

According to Ravens, CEO of the application, visitors to the Business District at Saunders College of Business were intrigued with the idea of discovering “what to do” based on their own needs and interests.

“Everything is in one place and they can search specific functions to narrow down local events that would appeal to them,” said Ravens. “So they had a choice today, to either go to the Lilac Festival or Imagine RIT, and they chose us.”

Hunting for earth’s hidden treasures

Visitors to the Golisano Institute for Sustainability building were busily discovering how researchers are converting waste into sustainable treasures. After picking up a treasure map on the first floor, they ventured out into a wide array of interactive activities, crafts and exhibits inside the GIS building and Louise M. Slaughter Hall—home of the Center for Integrated Manufacturing Studies.

Part of the environmental chemistry lab on the GIS building’s third floor was transformed into a “rare earth play pit,” featuring hundreds of plastic balls in color-coded proportion to the element composition found in a rare earth mine. The young discoverers were tasked with finding different colored balls representing the rarest elements, demonstrating how difficult it can be to find such materials vital for use in technology and elsewhere.

The most difficult find?

“There’s a single ball depicting dysprosium—a rare earth element used in magnets, wind turbines and technology such as smart phones,” said Gabrielle Gaustad, an associate professor at GIS. “It’s extremely difficult to find both in our play pit and in the real world.”

Two years ago, Gaustad received the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program Award from the National Science Foundation to study the implications of material scarcity and criticality on future clean energy technologies.

The exhibit also featured several informational posters posted around the lab including QR codes for parents or older children interested in learning more about the subject of critical materials, byproduct mining and other important research at GIS.

While learning how RIT is making decisions to reduce waste in innovative ways, the sustainable treasure hunters also could complete a map to become eligible to win a free Fitbit Activity Tracker or a gift card.

Zina Lagonegro ’01 (civil engineering technology) and her husband, Alan ’00 (applied arts and sciences), were accompanying their twin 10-year-olds Matthew and Samantha on their sustainability quest.

“I was explaining to them what sustainability means and how we all can be part of it,” Zina Lagonegro said. “It’s important for them to know that there are things we should be considering when it comes to our daily choices and how they impact the environment.”

Welcoming RIT alumni and their families

It wasn’t hard to spot RIT graduates enjoying the festival with their families. Many donned orange, brown and white “Proud RIT Alum” stickers on their shirts.

At the Gene Polisseni Center, RIT alumni could sign up for identification cards, grab a cold drink and learn more about the Alumni House, which will serve as a welcome center for graduates after it opens next year on East River Road.

Jon Rodibaugh, executive director of Alumni Relations, said between 600 and 800 alumni and their families were expected to visit the Alumni Oasis.

“We turned it into a showcase for our alumni this year,” he said.

Darlene Hookstra ’90 (criminal justice) was there with her husband, Eric, and his son, Brian. Brian said he is a junior at Honeoye-Falls Lima High School and RIT is one of the colleges he is considering. He said the festival will give him a good sense of what RIT has to offer.

“There are a lot of cool things to look at,” he said.

The next Imagine RIT is set for May 6, 2017.

Includes reporting by University News Services staff

Note: Video available for this story