MayX Snapshot: Student inventors blend tech and imagination
Electronic Arts and Crafts
Bryan Catron, computer science instructor
Exploring interactive projects that artists, designers and crafters have made using technology while designing original projects with an easy-to-use platform – no computer programming experience required.
They called it the Motorskee.
“It’s going to launch projectiles into these cups,” said co-inventor Jack Mikell ’25, indicating a catapult mounted atop a small radio-controlled car and a board holding three red plastic tumblers. “There’ll be sensors connected to the back of the cups, and the projectile will come through, initiate the sensor, and it’ll register on a scoreboard.”
The name Motorskee, explained Mikell’s partner, Tony Song ’26, combines the word “motor” with the arcade game Skee-Ball, where players toss balls up a ramp, aiming for the center ring of a bullseye.
The pair was one of several teams in the Electronic Arts and Crafts May Experience course who conceptualized, designed and built interactive electronic projects despite having little experience in electronics or computer programming. It was their introduction to maker culture, a worldwide movement of DIY tech enthusiasts creating new inventions or tinkering with existing ones, said instructor Bryan Catron.
“It’s a feeling of, ‘Isn’t this cool? I built this thing that you never knew you needed,’” said Catron, a computer science instructor.
For example, one might not have known that one needed a modern jukebox that uses an RFID scanner to select a vinyl LP to play on a turntable. Or a machine that can sort M&Ms by color. Catron encouraged his class to use their imaginations in their innovations.
“I tell them, ‘The sky’s the limit,’” he said. “I do want them to aim high. The work is more fun if they think big.”
‘What’s plan B?’
The MayX students also learned how to adapt if an idea turned out to be unworkable, said Catron.
“Failure and success go hand in hand,” he said. “You say, ‘OK, what’s Plan B? Can we achieve the same thing using a different technique?’ You have to be nimble and able to pivot quickly when something doesn’t work. Those are skills that can be applied to a lot of fields.”
The class included a few computer science majors, but many are focusing on disciplines like the arts and humanities, said Catron.
“What they have in common is curiosity,” he said.
Theatre arts major Liam Daniels ’24 teamed with Amitabh Chakravorty ’24, an information technology and business administration double major, to build a robotic arm.
Playing with purpose
No prior programming experience was required, since the students used Arduino, a user-friendly open-source platform designed to help artists and hobbyists craft their own interactive electronic projects. A supply of gadgets like motors, sensors, LED lights and conductive thread and paint were available to hook up to the preprogrammed Arduino microprocessors, Catron said. Online makers’ communities like Thingiverse and Instructables provided further inspiration and guidance.
“I’ve always been interested in being creative,” said Mikell, a business administration major and member of the ROTC Paladin Battalion. “I have very little knowledge of coding, and I just wanted a chance to learn more.”
Catron hoped his students will continue to “play with purpose” and engage with maker culture, perhaps even some day sharing their finished projects on Thingiverse or Instructables.
“By the time they finish this, they should be able to do most of what they want,” said Catron. “And even if they only achieve a piece of it, they can see how far they can take it.”