July 22, 2015 | By Alec

Innovative design contests have been at the start of so many successfully 3D printing startups, because they are fun events for giving shapes to those ideas that have been piling up, while also being a valuable source of critical feedback. And we have some good news for those students who are willing to take their own 3D printable ideas to the next level, as the registration for the seventh annual UIST student innovation contest is now open. All students are invited to participate and develop their own Animatronic solution, which can be fully 3D printed.

This fun student innovation contest is part of the ACM Symposium on User Interface Software and Technology (UIST), annually held in Charlotte, North Carolina. 'UIST is a conference that focuses on novel software and hardware for user interfaces (and is the conference where I publish all my fabrication research, such as constructable, WirePrint etc.),’ we are told. It’s one of the major events on the calendar for innovations in human-computer interfaces and brings together a vast number of scientists and businesses. But of course, the student contest is one of the highlights for students of all shapes and sizes.

This year, the contest is organized by Stefanie Mueller, a PhD student in the Human Computer Interaction Group at the Hasso-Plattner-Institute in Germany, whom we know for a number of exciting 3D printing projects. Just earlier this year, we reported on her Star Trek-esque 3D printing concept and on a software solution that speeds up 3D print prototyping. As she tells 3ders.org, she is very happy to organize the fun UIST contest this year. And in a nutshell, it’s all about animatronics. ‘This year’s contest is on Animatronics and we ask student teams to build innovative software and hardware solutions. Students can win prices worth $6000 dollars,’ she says. Surely that should get the attention of some of you.

But even without the prize money, this competition looks great. As Stefanie wrote on the contest’s website, these Animatronics walk on a fine line between art and science. ‘Help blur the lines between art and engineering by creating tools for robotic storytelling!’ she writes. ‘As always, the UIST Student Innovation Contest challenges student teams to create intriguing interfaces using novel hardware kits that we provide. It’s your chance to amaze us with your innovations! Contestants will demo their creations during the demo reception at the conference, and the winners will be announced at the banquet. A jury of UIST celebrities will select two winners in the "best software innovation" and "best hardware innovation" categories. Conference attendees will also get a chance to vote for their favorite teams in the "people's choice" category.’

Unlike the previous years, these animatronics are also intended to be educational. ‘Schools and museums are starting to offer experimental Animatronics classes where kids build furry robotic animals and use them to tell amazing stories. These courses blur traditional lines - between art and engineering, between the virtual and physical worlds - all while demonstrating the universality of creativity across disciplines,’ Stefanie explains. ‘Everybody learns how to write stories, build mechanisms, program motions, provide voice performances, etc. In this way, kids see how it all works together, and it has a way of inspiring kids to see new career possibilities. Our contest partners for this year are teachers deploying animatronics in their classrooms right now, who want to see software and hardware innovations to broaden the stories their high schoolers can tell.’

Of course, animatronics aren’t very easy to build, so each participating team will be provided with a basic kit of parts, that includes servo motors, cables, a controller, a power supply and a puppet. Using these parts and an SDK, all participants can program their puppet to come to life – in whichever way you would like to do so.

And as we said earlier, there is plenty of room for 3D printed customization. ‘The customization possibilities are infinite. 3D printing or laser cutting can create unique character parts, like snap-on eyes or arms,’ Stefanie explains. ‘They can also help define the structure of the animatronics skeleton: could there be a tool for drawing desired motions and calculating the 3D printed parts and servos needed to make them? Or a tool to match a puppet body to a set of servos and parts that could make its motion look natural? What sorts of hardware components could facilitate emotional displays in puppets; can we create "emotion kits" for sadness, happiness, or anger?’ In short, plenty for a dedicated maker to start playing with.

If you’re interested to join up, the competition is open to students of all levels, from high school up to PhDs. Just make sure to register before the 7th of August. Teams will then be selected, with the deadline for all animatronic solutions being November 10. For more information, check out the contest webpage here

 

 

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