The conference kicked off with a keynote by David Sengeh from the MIT Media Lab’s Biomechatronics Group who is working on an extraordinary project that I had not heard of. David is from Sierra Leone and is currently at MIT working on a system for making custom fit prosthetics for amputees. Throughout the course of his research he noticed that many people from his generation had lost hope and did not seem to be working to give back and make a difference in their home country. David decided that the only way to change this was to focus on the future generation, the youth. He set up a program called Innovate Salone where children are invited to submit their ideas. They are evaluated based on innovativeness, impact and feasibility and the top eight submissions have the opportunity to make their ideas come true. He had three winners with him who presented their ideas and shared their experiences with us. It is an extremely moving and amazing project, I hope more people take after his model. As someone commented during the Q&A, there are communities in the U.S. that have similar problems and need more community and maker spaces.
During lunch I ran over to the poster/demo session and took the opportunity to look at some other posters before heading back to my own as this was designated setup time. I saw some really awesome projects including Dr. Wagon and a rapping robot. Dr. Wagon is a physical version of the popular children programming interface, Scratch. Students from the Transformative Learning Technologies Lab at Stanford have created. When a child makes a program by putting the blocks in a specific order the robot toy receives the signals from the code blocks and performs the action. It is very beautifully made and so much fun to play with. I am not sure if they will be able to make this into a product, but it is always nice to see tangible versions of the digital world!
Another cool project from this group is Light Up! a construction set of building blocks that snap together magnetically. The blocks have electronic components on them that allow children to build simple light circuits and also have more advanced blocks that connect to an Arduino board and allow children to program their projects. It is pretty similar to littleBits, but with an educational focus on learning electronics. They also have an app that comes with a kit which is my favorite part. If you take a picture of your LightUp circuit with the app it draws an image on top that shows you the direction of current and tells you if you have something backwards in the circuit. They actually have a Kickstarter right now, so if you want to grab a kit in advance, you should back them!
Last night we had a guest appearance from one of my childhood favorites–Bert! He was hilarious. The conference is hosted in partnership with Sesame Workshop and they were kind enough to bring Bert over and tell us about their own experiences with interaction design. I never knew that Sesame Workshop has made so many different games over the years. They showed us all of their products from pre-PlayStation to iPad and how they have faced different design and interface technologies as new technologies emerge over the years.
I am learning about so many awesome projects and meeting really amazing people. This is also giving me a lot of perspective on how to improve and proceed with my own project, Invent-abling. Tonight we are heading to the New York Hall of Science for a making and design play party, I’m really excited to see their makerspace and make some stuff!