The NEXIS student research lab occupies a place of pride at the iSchool, enabling students to pursue special projects in an unconventional setting. Many students are quick to associate this facility with the emerging technology that it houses and the educational seminars that NEXIS members frequently host. Yet sometimes, people have trouble in comprehending the lab’s work, and resort to buzzwords like ‘innovation’ and ‘disruptive.’
As a NEXIS member myself, I’m often amazed by the impact of the work being undertaken by our fellows. In order to increase public awareness and open up details of ongoing research, I sat down with Jay Getman, who has been persuing an independent research project with assistance from NEXIS.
Getman is an IMT major at the iSchool with a minor in Psychology, who became a part of NEXIS two years ago by taking the NEXIS class. His current project in the lab revolves around touchless interfaces. “This includes anything you do not need to touch, to interact with,” he explains. “We’re thinking about the Kinect, Leap Motion and armbands, looking at how these devices can be utilized to their full potential.”
The project was conceptualized when Getman discovered a Leap Motion in the lab, and was also taking a researach methodology course in Psychology. Along with his collaborator, Alexander Krapf, he set out to create games for the Leap Motion.
Research > CHI Paper
“We looked around and saw if there was anything to guide us… there wasn’t much. So we started doing our own research by taking video surveys, in which we asked participants to perform specific functions as if they were using a touchless interface. The more we worked on it, the more I realized that I enjoyed scientific research in this domain,” Getman said.
These experiences culminated in a paper submission for the CHI Conference, which Getman recalls as a very intense and rewarding undertaking.
His recent work is more tangible and fascinating even to the layperson. Getman and his team are working on a Topographical Sandbox, which uses sand, a Kinect, and custom computer programs to blend the physical and virtual worlds.
Exhibiting at Museum
“We’ve got a projector and sensors set up overhead,” he explains, “and the sensors read the depth or shape of objects in its range and projects colors based on the height of the shape. So if there’s a hill, it would go from blue to red – much like a topographical map.” His exhibit is being developed for the Museum of Science and Technology (MOST) in Syracuse, and is also serving as his capstone project at the iSchool.
Getman’s inspiration for this project stemmed from similar research being conduced at UC Berkeley. Whereas the Berkeley researchers created the Sandbox to run on the Linux operating system, Getman and his team are attempting to port it to Windows. For assistance, he initially reached to the MOST and Lorne Covington, who is well-known for his immersive learning exhibits. With guidance from Covington, plus teaming up with fellow NEXIS member Cody O’Donnell, Getman set out to examine and adapt existing research for his exhibit.
So how will the Sandbox look at completion? Check out this You tube video of the East Carolinian Augmented Reality Sandbox:
“Besides from writing a research paper, we definitely plan to display it at the MOST,” says Getman, “but we want to make it more of a platform that can be used to serve different purposes. For example, we don’t have to use only sand in the sandbox. It could be a box, or game piece; one of our ideas is to turn it into a digital game board. We will be setting up on a permanent installation at NEXIS, which will work as a platform with various objects, where anyone can come in and tinker with it. Hopefully it will get more complex and interesting when we open it up to people outside the lab.”
Opened Work Process
With a lot accomplished in the last few months, Getman acknowledges the significance of NEXIS in his success.
“I think one of the biggest ways NEXIS has helped, is by opening up our work process. Many labs are structured, but in NEXIS, you just get a project, get a team and go to town. Cody and I started to work on this project as part of a class, but soon we realized having the collaborative NEXIS environment would be beneficial. We’ve gotten a lot of useful inputs from other NEXIS members, and also added Alexander to our team. The lab has helped us improve the project, in brainstorming ideas…basically it has enabled us to grow organically.”
The networking opportunities are also a vital part of the NEXIS experience. For example, Getman has met a faculty member with similar interests, through an introduction by another NEXIS member. This person has been a mentor to him since, and has helped him refine his work in ways not possible before.
Good Life Lessons
Furthermore, these projects have imparted some important life lessons. Among them is, “Be careful what you sign up for.” Warns Getman, “the more you think about it, the more your scope can get out of hand.” He notes that the work undertaken needs to be completed within the required timeframe, and with a high level of quality. In that regard, he feels that this experience has been an indispensable preparation for the ‘real world’, where there are no safety nets. Meeting the objectives that we set up at the bringing of the semester is paramount,” he concludes.
On the outside, NEXIS may seem like a playground for fancy gadgets, but the reality is that a lot of sweat goes into these projects. Students work in return for nothing except the experience and knowledge they gain, thereby benefiting from the spirit of inquiry and research that a university fosters.
NEXIS Open House Today
The NEXIS student lab is hosting an open house and demonstration of 10 student projects today. You can see everything from drones, to robotic hands, and an array of research topics-turned-realities that iSchool and Syracuse University students have been working on this year. The demo event, called “Future Wednesday,” takes place on the second floor of Hinds Hall (on the main SU quad) in the ICE Box space. Hours are from 1:00 to 3:00 this afternoon.)