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Have you ever tried playing “rock-paper-scissors” with robotic hands? Beating a computer at tic-tac-toe? Or becoming paparazzi for a red-carpet line of oddball celebrities? At the Revolving Museum in downtown Lowell, you can.
These and other interactive projects were recently unveiled by the Artbotics program as part of the museum’s Toys and Games exhibition. A collaboration between UMass Lowell, the Revolving Museum and Lowell High School (LHS), Artbotics combines fine arts, computer programming and robotics and is funded with a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation.
The exhibit is a culmination of the Artbotics university course (taught by Assoc. Prof. Holly Yanco and Asst. Prof. Fred Martin of the Computer Science Department and Asst. Prof. Hyun Ju Kim of the Art Department) and the spring after-school workshop series at the museum for LHS students. As part of their course work, UML students served as mentors and “partners in learning” to the high-school students.
This year’s exhibit saw nine Lowell teens joining with 28 undergraduates in computer science, music, art, electrical engineering and English to create about 30 electronic displays with an artsy flair. Incorporating lights, motors, switches and sensors, the students invented low-cost interactive displays designed to introduce computing to the public in an engaging, easily accessible manner.
“This community context dispels the notion of the asocial programmer and provides positive, realistic experiences in teamwork, design and programming,” says Yanco. “Students learn that computing can be used in a variety of ways as a part of many disciplines.”
Nearly 200 people flocked to the museum at the exhibit’s opening reception on May 1. The student inventors and their faculty mentors were on hand to showcase their work and describe their experiences designing, constructing and programming their creations.
In addition to Yanco, Martin and Kim, project advisers include Diana Coluntino of the Revolving Museum, Prof. Linda Silka of the UML Center for Family, Work and Community and project coordinator Phyllis Procter. Henson Phan, a graduate of Artbotics, rejoined the program this spring as a mentor while Adam Norton, a second-year UML art major, served as mentor and instructor. Norton has participated in Artbotics since the program’s inception in the summer of 2006.
“Artbotics is where computing, art and the community come together through collaboration,” says Kim.
“I love it,” says Coluntino, the museum’s youth-arts program coordinator. “I want to continue doing this even after the NSF funding. The program allows students to get their hands on technology, to do fun, cool projects without the classroom restriction.”
“The program helps computer science majors understand the promise of art, to see possibilities they haven’t seen before,” says Silka, the program’s evaluator. “Artbotics opens up their creativity.”
The exhibit will run through the end of the year. “New Artbotics pieces will be added to the exhibit at the end of our fall high school program,” says Kim.
For more information about Artbotics and the Revolving Museum, visit www.artbotics.org and www.revolvingmuseum.org, respectively. For a gallery of photos from the event, visit UML's photo gallery.