Professor Scott Kovaleski took the time to figure out for himself how one could make Christmas lights flash to the beat of his favorite holiday tune.
“That involves building some software that will analyze the music and detect when the beats are so you can blink lights to them,” Kovaleski said. “Then, you have to have a connection between a computer and some physical computing device and translate that so the lights can be blinked.”
The professor of electrical engineering did not tackle this project alone, however. He joined forces with other like-minded people around Columbia to build a functional music light system.
The group Kovaleski collaborated with is the Columbia Gadget Works, a Columbia- based hackerspace open to anyone with a technical project that needs solving.
CGW formed in fall 2009 after Kovaleski had searched for a hackerspace in the area. It turned out he was not the only one searching.
“There is a strong interest in building a science and technology community within Columbia,” Kovaleski said.
CGW has 10 full-time members with 20 to 30 others who circulate in and out of meetings. Members meet to work on a variety of projects in fields ranging from software security to radios to high-altitude balloons.
“One of the guys was really involved in scouting and he’s been bringing around his pinewood derby car, which is (rocket-powered),” Kovaleski said.
The professor said it is difficult to make a car stay on the track once you’ve put a rocket on it.
“It’s quite the engineering problem, apparently,” he said.
CGW president Zach Zeman said he got involved with the group over the summer after he began participating in the online discussion group. He said it is fun to work with such a diverse group of people, ranging from professional engineers to amateurs who know nothing about a particular field.
“I’m mostly a computer guy,” Zeman said. “I don’t work a lot with electronics, and I learned a lot from the people who are very experienced with electronics and actually do that as their day jobs.”
MU Ph.D. student Ian Graves and a friend had been forming their own group around the same time they discovered CGW. This club, now called MU Free Hackspace, is a forum for MU students.
Graves said their group works on software projects using the Arduino platform, a piece of hardware used to program electronics for tasks such as a light switching on and off.
“Usually, we like to play around with microcontrollers,” Graves said. “Since the group started, I’ve done some things like controlling LEDs and lights and cube configurations.”
Hackerspaces like these help to build a community for people with a real passion for science and technology, Kovaleski said. They also help others develop the same love of science and technology shared among all members of the groups.
“I love to build stuff and I love doing the projects,” Kovaleski said. “I’d do them by myself, but the best part is just being around these people. It’s just a lot of fun, interesting people who have some crazy ideas. That’s really a good time.”
Anyone interested in joining can contact a group member or visit columbiagadgetworks.com.