THEY CAN HACK IT STUDENTS PARTICIPATE IN SEMESTER-LONG TECHNOLOGY INITIATIVE
What can 30 students from Winthrop and local high schools accomplish when given access to cutting-edge technology and caffeine-fueled brainstorming sessions? They can upfit a nearly 100-year-old building with tech innovations that transform it into a modern work space.
That is what happened when Technology Incubator Director David Warner and Winthrop Assistant Professor of Computer Science Andrew Besmer connected last year on a way to renovate the Incubator, located in the century-old Citizens Bank Building on Main Street in Rock Hill, by using custom built Internet of Things (IoT) technology.
One way to think of IoT technology in this case is that it connects computing devices with a customized identifier, thus giving it the ability to transfer data over the Internet without requiring human-to-human or human-to- computer interaction.
The project the two came up with was to offer students the chance to participate in a semester-long project, known as the Wired Hack 18.1-4, The Great IoT Hackathon. The event challenged the technical skills and creativity of participants to transform the Incubator space into what may be the world’s first “connected” technology incubator using custom built IoT technology.
The action started in January with a 24-hour event where participants heard ideas about how they could use technology in the office. They came up with six projects that will be unveiled in June… * A digitally-lit floor map, completed by using wired sensors in rooms and open spaces, allows Warner to know what doors are open in the office and if people are in different areas.
* Four Echo dots, which are hands-free, voice-controlled devices that operate by voice recognition, were placed in strategic locations around the Incubator to answer questions as needed.
* Voice-activated televisions make switching channels a breeze, and best of all, no need to look for television remotes.
* Installation of a Nest “smart” thermostat provides energy conservation since the system knows when people are not using the office space.
* Decorative and functional signage, made with LED lights, adds a unique look and feel to the space.
* An Internet-connected recycling bin has made recycling a fun and visual necessity. When a can is placed in the recycling bin, a sensor sends a signal to a set of programmable blue and green LED lights that light up. The more the office recycles, the more green lights flash.
Left: from top, clockwise: Joe Razum, global account manager at 3D Systems, taught students about additive manufacturing; group members learned how to solder in preparation for making their projects more permanent; Stephen Dannelly, computer science chair, lectured on basic electronics and how to operate a Particle Photon, which is a tiny Wi-Fi development kit. Right: Infrared break-beam sensors were installed in a recycling bin to detect when recycling occurred.
To understand how to wire up the Incubator, participants attended bi-weekly seminars. They learned soldering skills with a local tech group, KPCoders; about basic electronics from Winthrop Computer Science Department Chair Stephen Dannelly; about custom 3D printing with 3D Systems; and about Comporium Communications’ smart home project.
Comporium sponsored the hackathon and allowed the students to keep the IoT devices that they built, which included Echo dots, particle photons, sensors, motors, power supplies and LEDs.
Besmer said that “by giving participants IoT hardware, we hope they continue to be inspired to think of new ways technology can improve life for everyone.”
Known as an expert on cybersecurity and for his creativity and scholarship, Besmer was selected as Winthrop’s co-Outstanding Junior Professor for his work in such projects as the hackathon. He and other faculty members were happy to work with Comporium and the Incubator to offer this one-of-a kind experience.
“Students worked on cutting-edge hardware and software to build IoT devices similar to those being developed at research and development labs across the country,” Besmer said.
Incubator officials look forward to future projects with Winthrop in the same vein. “Technology goes hand-in- hand with entrepreneurship and innovation,” Warner said. “This is the future for us.”