Dig Baton Rouge

RED HOT TECH

By Tyler Grezaffi

With more and more advanced technology saturating everyday life, it becomes harder to notice it and appreciate the generations of hard work and science that have gone into it. However, the Maker’s Expo during last weekend’s Red Stick International Festival was the perfect place to witness creative original ideas and cutting edge technology.

Near the first floor entrance of the River Center Branch Library, a deceptively modest table stands holding what appears to be a hollowed out cube next to some figurines. Upon a closer look, a portion of a new figurine sits in the middle of the cube slowly coming closer to completion, each tiny layer appearing almost out of thin air. This is the 3D printer.

Standing happily over this impressive piece of machinery like two proud parents are Craig Billings and Henry Poche of Acadian Robotics, the only manufacturer of 3D printers in the state.

For those not up to date on the 3D printer, it can take detailed computer generated models and create stunningly accurate, 3-dimensional replicas of that model using different kinds of PLA and ABS plastics within just a few hours.

“Take an idea, get a computer generated model, get a 3D printed object,” says co-owner Craig Billings. “You can leave it at that, or you then take it and make metal objects out of it.” He continues, “A lady found some pictures of rings on the internet, and she wanted those made. So I modeled them and 3D printed them and she had them converted into metal for a business.”

Not only are the uses incredibly practical for making working parts (such a nuts and bolts) that are an exact fit with each other, but Henry Poche was even able to manage hacking a camera originally made for a popular video game console and use it to upload a 3D image of himself, essentially creating his own figurine within a few hours.

On the floor above, across from NASA’s table, I meet Murphy. Murphy isn’t a big talker. He just prefers to roll back and forth lifting and stacking boxes with his motor controls and showing off his power distribution boards. In other words, he is your typical high-school created robot.

First Robotics, Woodland High of Baton Rouge’s 40-man team of students recently participated in a series of competitions in which they had to build a robot capable of performing a specific task with a limited selection of parts. “They give us 6 weeks to build a robot, from creation to what they call ‘bag and tag’. Then you can’t touch it” one of the enthusiastic parents explains as Murphy rolls around, controlled by a student with the equivalent of an Xbox controller.

“We have kids that have gone into the Navy and nuke science programs, and kids that have gone all over the place based on being a part of first robotics,” says Daniel Eiland, a First Senior Mentor and teacher of Social studies. He goes on to talk about Danielle Massey, the team captain who is now physically riding on the robot. “She came into high school wanting to be a dance teacher or something to that degree. She got involved in robotics. After someone handing her a power saw and asking her to cut something, she was hooked, and she’s going into a STEM field of some sort.”

The next story of the library contains an entire row of tables showcasing different types of video games; the most intriguing one being where the player is wearing an almost stereotypical looking piece of virtual reality headgear. Not only is the headpiece noticeable, but written on the side is the brand of VR that Facebook recently bought out for 2 billion dollars: The Oculus.

The game on display, Dweeb McDermin, shows a first person perspective, traversing through a dark and mysterious laboratory. Judging by the impressive graphics, I first assumed this game created for the Oculus would be developed by a mainstream company like Electronic Arts (who were set up only a few tables away), but upon meeting one of the developers I learned that it was a team of nine LSU students.

James Smith, one of the developers, tells me a little about the game experience.

“The primary game mechanic is you use the Oculus and you shoot lasers” The story follows a 15 year-old that sees an optometrist after having his glasses broken. He then receives special glasses on the condition that he defeats the optometrist’s enemy (another eye specialist). “You use your laser, not necessarily to kill things, but to solve puzzles.”

Directly across from the flashy laser beams is something intriguing only for its simplicity; a friendly young man sitting behind a table that holds nothing but a Gameboy Color and headphones. Of course, at the Maker’s Expo, everything is more than what it looks.

As I boot up the Gameboy, the game’s designer Trey Duplantis fills me in on what to do, “A draws a circle, B erases a circle, it gets glitchier the more you play and if the game crashes, you win.” Originally inspired by a general purpose art class, the specific topic for one month was to make a piece of art that involved the decay of technology. “I’ve always wanted to work with Gameboys and it seemed like a way that I could make something very simple and learn the basics of how to program.”

Suddenly, the random circles and lines that I created start to look more like a bizarre piece of 8-bit abstract art. I take a quick snapshot of my masterpiece, knowing what will happen when the game turns off. “It’s something I kind of like conceptually about it.” Duplantis says, “You make this art that can’t last. At some point, it’s gonna go away.”

And yet, even temporary technology can be appreciated at the Maker’s Expo, because it’s often the original bizarre concepts that lead to the main stream games we play and the future generations of science on which we rely. It’s in places like the Red Stick Festival where we learn the answer to, “What came first? The robot or the memory stick datalogger?”

The correct response is “The Idea”.

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