EE185/EE285/CS241: Embedded Systems Workshop/Interactive Light Sculpture

Spring Quarter, 2022
MW 9:45-11:15
Packard Room 001

Instructor: Charles Gadeken
  • Office hours: TBD
  • Instructor: Philip Levis
  • Office hours: TBD
  • TA:

    Course materials

    As part of celebrating the 125th anniversary of Stanford's Electrical Engineering department, we are designing, engineering and installing an interactive light sculpture in the 3-story glass stairwell of the Packard building. The sculpture will remain in Packard for 3-5 years, allowing refinement, exploration of new engineering ideas, and new interactions.

    The piece, titled FLIGHT, is artistically designed by Charles Gadeken, a local light sculpture artist whose pieces have been installed in Palo Alto, San Francisco, Reno, Los Altos, Calabasas, and Robina (Australia). FLIGHT represents the past, present, and future of the EE department as 76 moving shapes made of dichroic acrylic so they change color in the light; each of these Fractal Flyers is individually programmable and represents an important part of the department's past and present.

    We started working on the project in the fall of 2019 and continued to make progress during the pandemic on the software (both a GUI to program the piece and firmware running on each flyer). Now that we can meet on campus again, we can get back to building the installation! You can see the current state and design of the Flyer and supporting software on the course git repository.

    In the spring quarter, the class will focus on three projects. The emphasis in the course will be on engineering: designing and defining processes that predictably create artifacts that meet requirements. Because there are 76 Fractal Flyers and they will be installed for years, each one needs to be robust and require very little maintenance. The three projects are:

    • Wings: A Fractal Flyer has two light-up wings made of dichroic acrylic. Each Flyer's wings are unique. One wing has the name of a person, event, or organization that's an important part of the EE department's history, and the other has the name of a student who has worked on the project. This project will focus on building the wings reliably and predictably, such that they will rotate millions of times over years without failing. This project includes running workshops with the Stanford community to build the wings. Students on this project will learn about materials, manufacturing processes, 3D printing, metal machining, LED illumination and programming, and power.
    • Body shell: The internals (motors, circuit board, etc) of a Fractal Flyer are covered by an acrylic shell that clips onto the flyer. The shell is vacuum formed into the right shape then laser cut into the right profile. Students on this project will learn about CAD, 3D printing, vacuum forming, laser cutting, and LED diffusion.
    • Mounting: The Flyers have to be mounted in the Packard stairwell. There are three different attachment points: the front window structure, the stairwell, and the ceiling. In this project, students will learn about mechanical design, manufacturing, materials, and safety.

    At the end of the quarter, each group will integrate all of these efforts into building a working Fractal Flyer, to understand how it all comes together. Students will fill out a questionaire in the first day of class to describe their background and group preferences and we will assign you to groups by the second day of class (Wednesday 3/30).

    Course enrollment in the Spring is limited to 30 students. If enrollment reaches this cap the instructors will distributed a survey on the first day to select who may take the course. The principal goal of the survey is to select a diverse group that has a mix of relevant skills and backgrounds.

    The difference between EE185 and EE285/CS241 is the complexity of work. Students taking EE185 are expected to be an integral part of their project team and make several engineering contributions. Students taking EE285/CS241 are expected to do more design work and analysis of the tradeoffs involved.

    If you would like to be involved in the light sculpture project without enrolling, please join the project mailing list. The class focuses on several key parts of the art; there are many other ways to contribute and help besides the course. There are weekly workshops on Mondays, which are open to the broader Stanford community. If you would like to help or contribute, please attend one of these workshops. Their time and location will be announced on list.