OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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Dancing to a Different Beat

Brian Benavidez demonstrates the light-up dance suit the Collaboratory team developed for the Utah Ballroom Dance Company.

It’s not just that their music is different. The millennial generation grew up with completely different technology. It’s their contemporary knowledge, skills, and excitement for innovation that are the selling point for the Collaboratory — a program in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science to employ students on projects to develop new prototypes for industry clients.

It is perhaps fitting that one of their first projects was to develop a light-up dance suit that can be controlled wirelessly by computer.

Tuan Truong, Chelsea Collette and Brian Benevidez This summer the Utah Ballroom Dance Company worked with a team of three Oregon State students of electrical and computer engineering to develop a technology that could not be purchased. The group wanted to incorporate light strings worn by the dancers into their choreography for a hip hop and Latin fusion dance, as seen on shows like “America’s Got Talent.” Although other dance groups have developed their own devices, no one has produced them for the market.

“The fact that you could potentially see this as a consumer product was really exciting,” says Collaboratory student, Tuan Truong.

It was an opportunity for the students to show their talents in hardware and software design and put their class knowledge to use by creating a market ready product. The Utah Ballroom Dance Company plans to take the light-up suits on their next tour across the country showcasing professional ballroom dance.

“Working with the Collaboratory was incredible. They were professional and took the time to really understand my vision and needs,” says Jesse Maher, production manager for the Utah Ballroom Dance Company. “The best part was they were as excited as I was to be creating our own take on this concept.”

Electric Feel Kickstarter video

The students are planning on developing the product further by gaining sponsors through Kickstarter, for the product they named Electric Feel.

“This project is an example of what students can accomplish when we work together for a common goal. If we are successful we hope to see more student Kickstarter projects from Oregon State,” Truong says.

The Collaboratory was started this year with seed funding from The Tektronix Foundation which has a decades-long partnership with Oregon State to give students work-relevant experiences. The Collaboartory is one of three engineering programs that are funded by their recent $75,000 gift.

The inaugural project funded by Tektronix does not dance, but could influence the next-generation user interfaces for oscilloscopes, electronic test instruments that measure signal voltages.

Tektronix funded the project to modernize the interface for oscilloscopes that currently use knobs and buttons to navigate menus and manipulate data. The Collaboratory group developed a concept interface that makes use of modern technology like touch screens, wireless design controls, and voice recognition.

“There is an ongoing need for next-generation user interfaces, and we evolve them continuously at Tektronix, but what the students bring to the project is the perspective of a new era of engineers,” says Brandon Greenley, manager for Tektronix, New Product Development.

“These students have grown up in a world filled with advanced user interfaces, and can harness the power of their experience and world view to create new concepts,” he says.

Jake Gilbert, Brian Benavidez and Aidan  Daly-Jensen The new interface the students designed runs on a wireless touch screen and includes a small movable controller, both of which can be placed on the table where users are doing their work. Even this simple convenience is a big improvement for users who are used to reaching above their heads to turn knobs on the oscilloscope.

“Tektronix was impressed by using wireless technology for the controls and the screen, so we definitely had an impact. They were so excited by the result that they signed up for another project,” said Don Heer, instructor for the Collaboratory.

Texas Instruments has also partnered with the Collaboratory to do a project on wearable computing. The project will be determined by the students, so it could be anything from a medical diagnostic device to a something similar to Google Glass.

Chelsea Collette said the experience of working for the Collaboratory was beyond what she could learn in a classroom lab. “You have to find your own way and learn to think for yourself,” she said.

The Tektronix gift which initiated the Collaboratory brings The Campaign for OSU closer to the university’s goal of raising $1 billion. So far, donors have committed more than $950 million, including more than $330 million in support of student and faculty programs.