Saturday, May 3, 2014

Connecticut Invention Convention 2014

Today was my first time going to the Connecticut Invention Convention, but not to compete of course. I was to help showcase the Computer Science and Engineering department (technically the CS, CSE, and CompE departments). Some students such as myself had volunteered their last weekend before finals to represent the School of Engineering instead of anxiously cramming.

All the departments had booths staffed by students and professors with demos to represent the 12 engineering majors. Arriving bright and early with my laptop, my Emotiv EPOC EEG headset, and ISAAC the A.R. Parrot Drone 2.0, I saw a huge swarm of parents and middle school students surrounding Gampel. Confused, I just stood in the swarm with them for a few minutes, not aware that I could have entered early to set up. "Is that a drone? Cool!", one of the strangers said as I awkwardly stood around waiting to be let into the building. I knew the demo was going to be a showstopper -- if it worked.

Finally gaining entry, I greeted the professors at my booth and began to set up my demo. Getting the EPOC saturated with saline and fixed on my head, I loaded up the Emotiv SDK and the Java program to communicate between the SDK and ISAAC. After confirming everything was good to go, I tried to relax, surveying the large crowd that had swarmed into the building in the meantime. Walking around Gampel with my nerd gear, I got a few intrigued and many more puzzled looks from spectators and fellow Huskies.

This was actually a bigger event than I was expecting

After the introduction and welcoming address to the young inventors, people were free to walk around and check out the displays set up by SoE. As I didn't have much room on the small table, I tried moving off to the side of the booth to fly ISAAC. Curious people gathered around, probably confused at the bizarre contraption clamped to my skull. Although not without some struggle, I was able to get it to fly. There seemed to be random instances in which one of the many components I rely on to communicate with each other for a flawless demo decided to not participate in the baton-passing of the data.

Displeased with these occurrences, I tried to investigate the cause as the size of the crowd tapered down. Sure enough, I was randomly getting disconnected to the SDK for seemingly no reason, now seemingly permanently as restarting the program and the headset didn't fix the issue. I was told that I didn't have to stick around since the demo wasn't working but I stubbornly refused. "How is this possible? Is this thing almost dead? I just charged it last night!" Of course I didn't have the charger with me either, so I had to run back to my dorm to grab it. And of course that meant venturing out into daylight looking like an escaped science experiment test subject.

However, retrieving the charger and plugging it into the headset for a few minutes didn't do anything, there was nothing wrong with the amount of charge remaining. Confused, I asked one of the professors what could possibly be at fault. The most probable culprit? Interference.

The EPOC communicates to the SDK over Bluetooth. As crowds gathered which contained people wearing Bluetooth headsets and people that possibly unknowingly had Bluetooth enabled on their phone, my connection to the computer would cut out and all the sensors would go black on the display. Sometimes relocating my demo would solve the problem. In one instance I herded a flock of roughly 20 people over to a wide open space and successfully flew ISAAC with the headset and received a round of applause.

Repping for the CSE department

After discovering the issue, we asked spectators to disable Bluetooth to reduce interference possibilities. The result was a larger frequency of successful demos. Many visitors took pictures and congratulated me on the project. I was even asked to do an interview for an article from the executive editor of a magazine -- all which wouldn't have ever happened had I decided to abandon ship the instant things decided to go south. Times like this I'm thankful for my stubbornness.

Overall, it was a huge success. Many people were (*Three Dog voice from Fallout 3*) astounded, bedazzled, and otherwise stupefied. Hopefully I had a positive impact on a lot of kids that might be considering engineering.