Hey! I’m Vahid, writing on behalf of ProjX. We’re a committee within TechX all about supporting MIT students’ side projects. Turns out MIT students make some pretty awesome stuff in their free time! A few times a year, we take applications and select a batch of projects to fund, up to $500 each. We have about 70 projects a year, in the past ranging from an Oculus-controlled quadcopter to a Bitcoin store checkout system. Besides funding projects, we promote the broader MIT maker community in three ways: showcase events, technical workshops, and an online project gallery.
ProjX was originally conceived as an idea to showcase students at xFair, the campus-wide annual career fair and tech expo. Called “xFair Student Relations” for several years, the program allowed students to demo their side projects and technology at booths alongside companies. Over time, we gave student exhibitors more support in the form of funding for project materials and monthly progress check-ins.
Last year, we rebranded with the ProjX name, growing and re-scoping beyond side project demos at xFair. Our mission is now to encourage and enable students to pursue side projects, spurring creative excursions outside the classroom and hands-on technical experience. The idea is that one batch of demos will inspire more students to begin their own projects and go on to demo them, perpetuating the cycle.
To give a sense of the kinds of projects in ProjX, we asked the teams that we funded over the past year to write about their work. Read on to see what they a few of them said!
Ornithopter (by Alyanna Villapando)
The project I worked on this summer was trying to create a small, Wi-Fi enabled ornithopter with the Intel Edison. An ornithopter, unlike more common aircraft like airplanes or quadcopters, uses flapping to generate lift and thrust, much like a bird would. There were plenty of obstacles when it came to brainstorming possible designs, writing code, and finally building this model, but in the end I managed to create a rudimentary prototype that features a live-streaming camera, several moving appendages, and a flapping mechanism which I could build upon in the future. More details about the prototype can be found on my website. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity ProjX gave me to pursue this idea. Thanks to them, I learned a lot about design and rapid prototyping while ending up with a tangible product.
Montagger: Graffiti Field Recorder (by Jonathan Bobrow)
Montagger is an Open Source device and software application to provide graffiti artists with an archiving method. Additionally, capturing the motion data from a performance of an artist gives her/him the ability to later use that data and extend the performance. As the past few years have seen major destruction of large scale graffiti art (5Pointz, MTA), I wanted to give artists a tool to record their work could be both historically important as well as creatively empowering. My work with Shantell Martin, had a strong influence on thinking about how an artist defines and is defined by her line. More info here.
Project Argus: Augmented/Enhanced Reality Platform (by Mina Fahmi and James Li)
Tools are platforms upon which biological limitations may be overcome. For our ProjX, we proposed Project Argus, a headset which can provide an individual with enhanced and augmented vision. Two similar systems were designed for unique use cases. Argus Heavy is a full-head helmet which provides night vision, zoom, wide range, and macro modes. An augmented reality platform will be integrated to provide sensor information and allow for further applications to be developed. Argus Lite also served as an augmented reality platform while providing night vision and zoom to one eye in a more mobile package, allowing normal functionality for the other eye. To develop these systems, we integrated rotating optics, infrared LEDs and Raspberry Pi into a headset form factor. The final design was 3D printed and ran on a Python script in Raspian.
Luminescence (by Garrett Parrish)
The Luminescence project is an exploration into a new type of illumination technique and control system. Currently, in architectural, themed, and entertainment contexts, lighting systems are typically designed with a line-of-sight paradigm where a light source is directed at a backdrop. This project sought to explore an alternative lighting concept that would create an organic and bioluminescent look and feel. To demonstrate this new look, a 24-square-foot floor panel that both illuminates and senses feet was designed and constructed. Additionally, a new custom control system was designed that allowed for the mapping of any visual image, video, or animation onto the complex lighting array and for the programming of interactions between multiple guests within the walking area. As guests walk over the panel, the floor will illuminate beneath them and organically animate connections between them. The project has been fully prototyped and is currently undergoing production designs for integration into the MIT Museum.
Luminescence was imagined, designed, and built by Garrett Parrish. www.garrettparrish.com
As a committee, we’re always super excited to see the impressive ideas and fascinating creations of the teams. Although we wish we could accept every project, we are limited by budget and can only choose so many to fund. In the fall of 2015, we had 119 applications and selected 54 projects, and over the past summer we were only able to accept 12 of 46 applications.
When considering applications, our committee members independently review the proposals, giving multiple reads to each application, and assign a score across various categories. After this process we regroup, recalibrate, and select the final funded projects. We see ProjX as a tremendous opportunity to foster student education and novel ideas, so the selection criteria (as posted on our website) that we use are:
- Novelty and creativity
- Educational value
- Impact of ProjX support
- Expectation of successful completion
- Overall cost
Even though we are limited in funds, we are working on other ways of promoting student projects. One channel, of course, is hosting project demos to increase their visibility. Last spring we piloted our first annual ProjX Demo Day, where we open up the event to projects beyond those that we funded. We also have an online project gallery in the works, where we make the showcase experience virtual and timeless. Beyond visibility, we are considering more ways to enrich the maker community, including workshops and talks throughout the year — keep an eye on our Facebook page for updates. We’re looking forward to these new opportunities!
If you have any suggestions for ProjX or are interested in contributing, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!