Student Fair Booms with Invention, from Multimedia to Robots

By Lissa Harris

Once again, the hallways of Upson Hall resounded with the whir of robotic wheels, the pulse of digital music and the buzz of excited voices.
          BOOM 2002, Cornell's sixth annual student exhibition of digital technology and applications on Wednesday, March 6, was even bigger than last year's event, with 52 projects on display, ranging from soccer-playing robots to electronic body-scanning, taking up three floors of Upson.
          BOOM, which stands for "Bits on Our Minds", is a fair hosted by the Department of Computer Science and the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, but which involves students from across campus displaying their projects. Every year, months of planning and hard work culminate in this showcase for Cornell's most innovative digital creations.
          Highlighting how digital technology has truly pervaded every aspect of life was a display by Adriana Petrova, a graduate student in textiles and apparel. Petrova used a state-of-the-art body scanner, recently donated to Cornell by alum Rebecca Quinn Morgan, to analyze the fit of clothing on volunteer research subjects. Researchers in the Department of Textile and Apparel hope to develop ways to quantify objectively how well clothing will fit. The body scanner -- originally developed for medical use -- has stimulated many new research projects in apparel design at Cornell and brought a powerful new tool to a field that is just beginning to realize the potential of digital technology. Susan Ashdown, associate professor in textiles and apparel, says that soon consumers will be able to use their personal body scans to determine, online, what sizes they should order in different brands of clothing.
          Just across the hall, Pete Ippel '02 exhibited "Sound Thinking", a project fusing digital technology with performance art. While Ippel spoke animatedly about art and "telepresence," a digital synthesizer generated music based on mathematical functions, and a small digital camera mounted on his computer took images of Ippel and his audience. Both sound and images were streamed over the web as a spontaneous performance-art music video. A multimedia artist who is completing a double major in fine art and psychology, Ippel is interested in the parallels between the way computers process information through binary code and the way perception arises from neurons firing in the brain. "Training in psychology really helps inform the digital", he said. "Ones and zeroes are very similar to action potentials -- they're either on or off".
          On another floor, Joel Chestnutt '02 and graduate student Tom Chi, members of Cornell's Big Red RoboCup team, displayed a poster on the annual international robot soccer competition. Also in attendance was one of their small soccer-playing robots, bearing the scars of battle from last year's competition in which champion Big Red lost to a team from Singapore.
Undergraduate Irene Chung '04 and biotechnology network administrator Barbara Dybwad displayed software they have designed that will soon automate the coordination of Cornell's emergency medical services. If the software is a success at Cornell, Chung and Dybwad hope to market their creation to other emergency medical services across the country.
Other projects included a program that models the behavior of investors in the stock market, and a variety of artificial intelligence projects, computer games and Internet applications.
          Kathy Carpenter, the coordinator of BOOM and an administrative assistant in the computer science department, said she considered this year's exhibition a resounding success. "I think it shows the best of the best," said Carpenter. "It shows how great the students are here and how creative they are, which we sometimes take for granted."
          Sponsorship for BOOM 2002 was provided by Credit Suisse First Boston and Verizon.