WMSI's First Tech Hangout

By Marc Bucchieri

Last week WMSI hosted the first in a series of tech hangout events, called the WMSI Hack-and-Hang. Like hackathons at the university or professional level, one of our goals is to provide a space where people can realize their dream and glean inspiration from the peers and projects around them. Of course we also add a WMSIcal twist to these events, by making them a place where eager STEM investigators can explore WMSI “museum pieces” and dive into learning technologies that are totally new to them.

 The pizza station (back right) was quickly deserted for tables covered in demos and maker materials.

The pizza station (back right) was quickly deserted for tables covered in demos and maker materials.

WMSI staff spent the afternoon relocating tech materials from WMSI headquarters to the nearby WREN workshop space. Hack-and-hangers began showing up around 5 pm and spent the first half hour chatting over pizza and cider. Then the theme was introduced: Winter Weather (aka “please please please let it snow some more!”) The room was originally set up with demos and prototyping spaces on the center tables with workstations around the edge- but this quickly devolved into a kind of organized chaos as new projects sprang forth and blossomed.

 Three microcontroller projects in full swing

Three microcontroller projects in full swing

One of the hits of the night (though debatably winter-themed) was Bill Church’s Skanect demo. Willing volunteers were asked to sit in a rolly chair and keep a straight face as they rotated in place under the watching eye of an Xbox Kinect. While participants slowly turned, the robotic gaze created an intricate 3D model of their upper torso. The Kinect models weren’t perfect; tops of heads were often neglected, and glasses had to be taped over in order to appear as a solid surface. Once each scan was complete, a 3D-printed mini bust was only minutes away.

 3D prints of our very own Mobile Director,  Jeremy Knowlton .

3D prints of our very own Mobile Director, Jeremy Knowlton.

Other projects included a 3D-printed snowflake and a circuit that expressed temperature via the shifting colors of an RGB LED. Amidst the flashing lights and whirring 3D printers, participants flowed from station to station or huddled intently over laptops and circuits. Most hack-and-hangers focused on learning to program an Arduino or Redboard for the first part of the night, then translated this new knowledge to their project idea.

 Two hack-and-hangers get ready to program their first Redboard circuits.

Two hack-and-hangers get ready to program their first Redboard circuits.

 

When not working on their own hacks WMSI staff circled the room, offering technical help and receiving inspiration for future hangouts. Our goal is to host these events about once a month but no two hangouts will be the same- each new event will explore the possibilities of other locations, themes, and age groups. Check back soon for news on our next hangout, tentatively planned for February 23rd. Hope to see you there!