|A quadricopter flies inside the Center for Student Innovation as part of a presentation on gestural control during the RIT Student Research Symposium.
The room was packed, the atmosphere positively electric. Though many attendees mingled around the perimeter, engrossed in their own side conversations, the room’s primary draw lay in the center.
A group of students, staff and faculty eagerly circled a large mechanical device that sat
in the middle of the room. With a loud whirr, this helicopter-like machine sputtered to life,
rising through the air. Nearby, a student presenter began to move. Immediately, the chopper
followed suit, imitating the exhibitor’s motions precisely, before colliding with a series of
This device, a “quadricopter,” was but one of the many attractions present on Feb. 18 in the Center for Student Innovation (CSI, 87) and Thomas B. Golisano Hall, where students, faculty and industry members gathered for the inaugural Winter Research Symposium.
A Tradition Transformed
RIT’s annual research symposium has become an integral part of the
RIT community. Jon Schull, the current director of the CSI, described it
as a “presentation for innovators and researchers from all ends of RIT.”
The first symposium was held by the Department of Chemistry 15 years
ago. It was developed under the leadership of Ian Gatley, then-dean
of the College of Science, and Kalathur Santhanam, a professor of the
Materials Science and Engineering graduate program.
This legacy endures today, though the format has changed. This past
summer, the program was rebranded to take advantage of the CSI, which
opened in May 2009. Experiencing a 40 percent increase in student
involvement, the CSI decided to add fall and winter symposia. Whereas
summer symposia tend to focus primarily on RIT’s summer research
fellowships, these additional events are aimed at recruiting an even
more diverse group of researchers. Two quarters in, Schull thinks it
has paid off, saying, “At this point, we probably have more students
involved in research and innovation than we ever have [before].”
While many presenters participate for class-related projects, the
symposium is open to all RIT faculty, staff and students. Schull
believes that the symposium provides an encouraging environment
for interested parties to become involved. Students in independent
studies benefit in particular, as they can network and discover outlets to
continue their work.
An Unorthodox Introduction
According to Schull, the easiest way to become involved is to simply
visit the Center. He recalled one particular project — a suit designed
to help the wearer lift heavy boxes — due to the inventors’ unorthodox
introduction. “They walked in dressed up in the lifting system,
carrying two heavy objects; and they said, ‘I’ve invented something,
now what do I do?’” said Schull with a chuckle. Those students,
third year Industrial Design major Sean Petterson and third year
Multidisciplinary Studies major Justin Hillery, presented their
project, “Lift Assist,” at the symposium.
“Lift Assist” bears a distinct purpose: making the work world a safer
place. The idea came to the pair one day while watching workers lift
heavy boxes in Global Village. By Petterson’s estimates, U.S. firms lose
$50 billion a year compensating for lifting-related back injuries. He
stated their invention’s goal simply: “What we’re trying to do is reduce
that number, have people at work healthier and happier.”
For Petterson and Hillery, the symposium provided much-needed
exposure, something especially important as their project moves
onwards. “We’ve gotten pretty far in development. We’re looking
towards marketing; we’re beginning to talk to investors,” said Petterson.
While “Lift Assist” aimed to solve a long-standing problem, one group
of graduate students focused on a different goal: pushing the boundaries
of gaming. They’re particularly interested in using motion to control
games or robots, something known as gestural control. Microsoft’s
Kinect, an add-on released last November for the Xbox 360, has helped
to popularize the concept.
Through the use of a jail-broken Kinect, the group uses the body
motion of a human “agent” to control several devices, including a flying
rotorcraft called the Parrot AR.Drone quadricopter, which is usually
controlled by an iPhone or iPad.
The quadricopter team turned their dream into a reality during their
10-week Innovation and Invention course. “That’s the beauty of this
class — a diverse group comes in and we just start bouncing ideas
[around] and hone in on a concept,” said George Diaz, a second year
Packaging Science graduate student.
Although their class has ended, the quadricopter team’s work has only
just begun. Like many others at the symposium, they plan to present
their work at Imagine RIT in May. The team members are determined
to push the boundaries of gaming and are considering using either
augmented reality or QR codes to further increase interactivity.
As the symposium draws to a close, the quadricopter team members
stand near several columns of balloons, remnants of their demonstration.
As participants slowly begin to trickle out, a dedicated few remain,
talking to presenters. It’s a scene Schull knows well. “The biggest thrill
is around this moment,” he says. “I just saw a bunch of students do
dynamite presentations on stuff that no one could even have thought
of a year ago.”
For more information on the projects presented or how to get
involved, visit the Center for Student Innovation’s website at http://