UCSD students in La Jolla get futuristic for senior thesis projects

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Wesley Hawkins sits in the cockpit of his combat simulator video game. Courtesy photos

By Will Bowen

It’s surprising that you don’t see many entrepreneurs shopping around for some new technology to fund at UC San Diego’s Interdisciplinary Computing in the Arts & Music (ICAM) presentations. The productions occur on the last day of spring quarter each year and are really the place to see the latest developments, trends and realizations in computing and the arts.

For the last five months, ICAM students have been working on their Senior Thesis Project, which is their stepping stone to graduate school or a job in the new media marketplace.

“The projects of our students range from pure research, through computer games, all the way to art installations and performances,” said Visual Arts Professor Brett Stalbaum, who co-directs the program with Music Professor Peter Otto.

“This is where you really see innovation,” Otto added. “It isn’t really happening in the game companies out there, as you might expect, but in student projects like these at ICAM.”

“I have put every spare minute into my project,” said

Wesley Hawkins

, who single-handedly built and programmed his own combat simulator video game. “This is my fifth year at UCSD. I spent three years studying chemical engineering before I switched to ICAM. I made the switch because I finally realized that I wanted to make some ‘fun’ stuff; I consider myself a fun-gineer!”

Hawkins constructed an army-green wooden cockpit, the size of a VW bug, and adorned the interior with a video screen, computer and controls, some of which came out of a Honda Prelude that he and his girlfriend tore apart at the junkyard.

“This is the Soviet version of the game. It’s big and heavy!” joked Hawkins.

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Nick Wolford watches La Jolla resident Fred Raab play with his Techno Icosahedron toy.

You climb inside the cockpit and play a video game that takes place on a mining planet, where you are inside a converted transformer-like salvage robot that has been armed to fight bandits who are raiding the planet.

Hawkins built all the hardware, wrote the software computer program and drew all the graphic art by himself. This is quite a feat because a game like this usually requires a team effort with many people involved in the various aspects.

Fellow ICAM student

Nick Wolford

used two arduino devices, clear PVC pipe, lacrosse balla and LCD lights to create a new style of hand-held toy, which he calls a “Techno Icosahedron.” Modeled after a geodesic dome, the toy will play music and flash different light sequences as you spin it around. You can also place it on a shelf as a light fixture/art piece.

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David Lopez de Arenosa (right) and band member play computer-enhanced DJ music.

Kevin Lam

placed light sensors around a bowl of water to create a fascinating new type of musical instrument he calls “Hydrina.” You play the Hydrina by placing your fingers in the water and twiddling them. The resulting ripples on the water are picked up by the sensors and cause different sounds to be played through a speaker.

Grady Kestler

used complex math formulas to develop a new process for creating 3-D surround- sound headphones. Currently, to get a good set, you must have your head, nose and ears personally measured because your features affect the soundfield around you. Kestler’s math may make it easier to mass produce quality surround-sound headphones, which may someday come with your iPhone.

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