"Imagination is more important than knowledge," is Einstein's often-quoted reminder that even though Wikipedia and Google has turned us into know-it-alls, truly creative ideas are often hard to come by. Imaginative inventions such as Velcro, television, and the Theory of Relativity were derived from unlikely connections – moments where science and a random occurrence meet head on.
The unlikely combination of events that lead to such creative solutions often happen when the inventor gets outside of the lab (or away from the office) and goes for a walk through the thickets (the invention of Velcro), a stroll in a potato field (where TV was first imagined) or a trip on a train (where Einstein had his eureka moment). Since most institutions discourage people from randomly walking off the job, a good approach to create those random sparks of ingenuity is to build teams that connect different disciplines together, give those teams the right tools and hope for serendipitous results.
This multi-discipline approach to creative problem solving is taught by Antonio Gomes to his students at Queen's University School of Computing in Kingston Ontario. As a promoter of the liberal arts, Antonio's "Computing in Creative Arts Class" attracts students from a range of disciplines which include art, design, film and music. This doesn't mean Antonio will shy away from assigning projects that would challenge the most gifted engineer or computer scientist. Antonio's Students tackle very complex tasks that include computer programming, the integration of circuitry, and manufacturing unique components.
A stand-out project from Antonio's most recent class is the Goon Quad, a robot designed and built by students Jessie Shaw, Kristy Titanic and Lauren Abramsky. The Goon Quad is an emotive robot that displays basic emotions in reaction to certain stimuli. The robot will dance, wave hello, get angry and act confused in response to touched-triggered sensors.
The use of 3D printing played a major role in making the Goon Quad possible. It was printed with a Makerbot Replicator, which is one of the three 3D printers available to Antonio and his students. While the robot could have been designed with more traditional methods such as laser cutting or CNC machining, 3D printing's accessibility and ease-of-use enabled the three students to focus more on programming and design aesthetics and less on technical barriers that would make construction more time consuming.
Jesse Shaw, the designer of the project states, "3D printing made all the difference in our project, as we were able to quickly print parts for our robot to test them out and to better refine our design overall. Our project would not have been the same without it."
A key to Antonio's teaching success is providing software and hardware that is easy to learn. Part of Antonio's strategy is to bring students on board with no engineering knowledge in order to focus on creativity and demonstrate how with today's technology, engineering skills can be implemented by any profession. The students involved had no previous experience with CAD or any other type of 3D design software.
Antonio describes the software used in process: "Most parts were firstly created in Adobe Illustrator as vector files which were later imported into Tinkercad and converted into 3D objects. As students from Computing in Creative Arts Class are from a variety of backgrounds ranging from computing, film, drama or commerce, we find Tinkercad (or similar alternatives), to be the most appropriate solution to get started with 3D printing without previous knowledge with 3D Design software."
Anyone who wants to create their own Goon Quad is free do so. Antonio has made the steps and STL files available on instructables.
The Goon Quad is a technological achievement that demonstrates how science fiction is slowly becoming reality through the power of imagination. Corporations that spend (and lose) money on research and development when struggling to find creative solutions should take heed of Antonio's teaching methodologies. By combining a multi-discipline approach to creative problem solving, 3D printing and easy-to-learn software, Antonio and his students turn bits to atoms and create emotions from science.