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Teaching Innovation Archive

Undergrads in the Lab                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         


To sum it up simply, students in the PAD (prototype and design) laboratory make things that help people. It’s a place where undergraduate and graduate students across disciplines like Human-centered Computing, Information Systems, Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Visual Arts, and the Erickson School of Aging come together to build devices that solve problems dealing with accessibility, sustainability, education, and community.


UMBC Junior Manpreet Suri (IS ‘14) is working on developing an alternative braille keyboard. About the size of an iPhone 4s, the device will be more portable and effective than a traditional braille keyboard. “The difference is that it uses motors instead of actuators to create the single character refreshable Braille display,” explains Suri. “These pager motors are laid out in a 2X3 matrix to mimic a Braille character.”


(Above) Dr. Kane and Dr. Hurst with students in the lab.

(Below)  IS PhD Student Brian Frey (right) talks 

            about the Braille Touch Project

A McNair Scholar and part of the Information Systems’ MS/BS program, Suri sought out Dr. Shaun Kane because he wanted to get involved. “We’re always looking for motivated students to help out with research,” says Dr. Kane, who runs the lab with fellow Information Systems professor Dr. Amy Hurst. He says the lab currently has ten undergraduate researchers who are working on projects from table-sized touchscreens to adaptive art tools for handicapped kids.

Senior Jurrell Brown (IS ‘13), is working on wheelchair customization. He’s trying to configure an XBOX Kinect to work as a sensor, turning any ordinary surface into a touch screen. The touch screen could then be easily added to any wheelchair.   “Some of the main benefits are providing an interaction surface that would connect to a computer or tablet device,” explains Patrick Carrington, Jurrel’s research partner and a graduate student in UMBC’s Human-Centered Computing program. “The surface would allow them access to all the features of the computing device.”                                                                                                                                                                        

For undergraduates, it might be the manifestation of—literally—their wildest dreams that makes the PAD Lab appealing.   Students get to fashion prototype devices out of PVC pipe. Sometimes they use the Makerbot, a 3D printer that takes a computer model of an object and then “prints” out a copy using spools of plastic that melt together, building the object layer by layer.


                Kennedy Krieger Project


But, perhaps the biggest incentive for students is the feeling that they are doing work that makes a difference. At least, that is the case with Suri: “When I found out about [the braille keyboard] project, I knew that I had to work on it because it would give me a chance to be able to give back to the community,” he says. “Many people think that individuals who use and make technology are lazy. I wanted to erase this assumption by developing something for people that directly impacts them in a positive way.”