Week 05

week05This week, our fourth Exploration week, was devoted to Explore: Printing! This was the students’ chance to experiment hands-on with the School’s 3D printing technology, including a wide variety of 3D printers, scanners, and haptic devices. Once again, we randomly divided the students into five groups of five students each, and the groups spent time exploring each of the technologies available to them.

3dequipThe students quickly became very familiar with each of the technologies, and immediately started experimenting with how easy it would be to scan various objects (including themselves or their classmates), edit the scan in a 3D software, explore their design to the appropriate slicer for our 3D printers, and print their build. Over course of the week, we printed several different 3D items, including miniature copies of the students. At the end of the week, each group handed in notes detailing their experiences and describing what they thought we should do in terms of 3D printing a copy of the FSU Torches to send into space.


Week 04

week04Halfway through our group exploration weeks, this week focused on Explore: Tracking, and offered a chance for the students to research all of our options in terms of making sure we could find the payload after it lands — including where the balloon was during flight, where it was likely to land. After discussing the key issues briefly in the class as a whole, we again divided into five random groups of five students each, and each group went off to explore our options.

Given that we were planning to attach hundreds of dollars worth of camera equipment to a weather balloon and letting it go, we wanted to be sure we had all of our bases covered in terms of being able to locate our payload. They researched how GPS systems worked, and explored options for using cellular, satellite, and amateur radio systems to track our balloon. The challenge is that while all of these systems use the same GPS satellites to determine their location, they all use different technologies to tell us where they are.

trajectoryIn addition, the students studied several different simulations for tracking weather balloons, and determined that depending on the weather, we were very likely to have our balloon land in the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Southern Georgia (in a worst case scenario, the balloon would pop over the swamp, and land in the Atlantic Ocean). Given the lack of cellular coverage in this area, this made it essential that we use a tracking system that does not depend on cellular networks. We also discussed the need for us to have a handheld GPS system that we could take into the woods with us, as we were very likely to have to go “off grid” as we tracked down the last known coordinates of our payload. At the end of the week, each group handed in notes detailing how best to proceed in terms of keeping track of our payload throughout the launch process.

Week 03

week03This week, the second of our Explore weeks, was focused on Explore: Mechies! We began with a detailed discussion involving the whole class about the challenges we would face as we assembled the weather balloon, the parachute, and our payload. We then divided into small groups (five groups of five students, randomly assigned, and different from the previous week so that students could spend time getting to know different classmates), and researched our options. We wanted to make sure each student had a chance to think about the mechanics of pulling this off, and figure out what we need to put where, what we’re likely to forget, and what we need make sure we do!

notes02Each group of students ended up tackling different aspects of the project, from the amount of helium we would need to achieve the correct ascent rates, to the difficulties of making sure our tracking devices would work in near space conditions. Once each group had finished their research, we met again as a group to share our findings, and discuss how we might best move forward. We came up with a lot of good ideas at this stage, including the idea of making sure the cameras are hanging at least 75 feet below the parachute… Given the North Florida / South Georgia terrain, and the likelihood our parachute might get caught up in the top of a very tall pine tree, we thought at the very least we could maximize the chances our cameras would at least be reachable. At the end of the week, each group handed in notes detailing their suggestions for how to solve the mechanical engineering problems we would face launching the torches into near space.

Week 02

week02This week was the first of our Explore weeks, and was focused on Explore: Social — including social media, websites, and other forms of online outreach. Our goal was to discuss what has been done, what we could do, and what we should do as we move forward with our plans to Launch the Torch! The students learned about many different type of social media, practiced making a blog site in WordPress, and started sharing their findings on Google Docs. In particular, they started to collect links to details about launching cameras into space on weather balloons, with their research serving as the basis for the Resources page on this website.

notes01The students were randomly divided into five groups of five students each, and by the end of the week, the students handed in detailed notes (the attached image shows a sample page of notes) with the results of their research, and explaining how they’d like to document and disseminate information online about our class project. In particular, we decided to use the #launchthetorch hashtag to document our activities online.

In addition, we visited the National Weather Service here in Tallahassee — one of nearly 200 sites in the continental U.S. that launches two weather balloons per day — where we were kindly allowed to watch a weather balloon launch. The NWS was very helpful in answering our questions about preparing for launching a weather balloon, and offered a number of valuable suggestions for making sure our launch would be a success!

Week 01

week01The students were introduced to the project idea on the first day of class, and they were immediately taken with the idea of doing something that had not yet been done before at FSU. We spent a lot of time during that first week talking about what it meant to be innovative and to work with emerging technologies, and we carefully discussed all the things we were going to have to accomplish in a short period of time (15 weeks) if we were going to succeed with this project.

We discussed the plan for the semester in detail (see image). We had only 15 weeks to accomplish our tasks (including this introductory week). We therefore divided the class into four different phases: Explore, Design, Deploy, and Deliver. The first phase, Explore, would last for five weeks (Weeks 2-6), and provide an opportunity for each student (working together in small groups, randomly assigned each week) to explore the requirements for successfully launching the torches into space in each of five different topic areas: Social (i.e., public outreach including websites, blogs, and social media), Mechies (designing and managing the payload, balloon, parachute, helium), Tracking (GPS units for tracking and finding the payload after launch), Printing (3D printing the FSU Torches and anything else needed for the project), and Video (managing the GoPro cameras and deciding what type of video to create). Each group would keep detailed notes about what they learned, handing in their Explore Notes (E1, E2, E3, E4, and E5) at the end of each week.

After exploring each topic in detail, the students would be divided into teams based on their interests, and then spend three weeks (Weeks 7-9) designing the project — coming up with the plans for everything we would need to Launch the Torch into the stratosphere. The goal here was to have everything planned out by the time the students left for Spring Break (which occurred between weeks 9 and 10 of the semester). Each group would hand in a Progress Report (P1) at the end of this phase.

After Spring Break, the students would then spend three weeks (Weeks 10-12) deploying their ideas — including building the payload, testing the equipment, and finally launching the torch at the end of Week 12. We tentatively planned for Saturday, April 2 — weather permitting — for our launch. This would give us all day to prepare the balloon, track the payload, and recover our cameras. Each group would hand in a Progress Report (P2) at the end of this phase.

Finally, after a successful launch, we would then spend the final three weeks of the semester (Weeks 13-15) delivering our final project, including creating and sharing the video of the FSU Torches floating in space. Each group would hand in a Progress Report (P3) at the end of this phase.

The students would each also submit an individual self-assessment detailing what they were learning from the course at the end of Week 6 (documenting lessons learned from the Explore phase), and the end of Week 15 (detailing what they had learned from the class overall).

Week 00

IFS 2097, Exploring Emerging Technologies, was offered for the first time in Spring 2016 as an E-Series course in FSU’s Liberal Studies program, which looked to provide first year students with opportunities to work together in small groups on hands-on, project-based activities. The purpose of IFS 2097 was to engage students with emerging technologies available in the School of Information’s Goldstein Library, and was advertised to prospective students with the following description:

Are you interested in how new information technologies are changing the way we interact with the world around us? Are you fascinated by technological innovation and design, and eager to learn more about the latest developments? Would you like hands-on experience with emerging technologies such as Raspberry Pis, 3D Printers, and Oculus Rifts? If so, join Professor Marty in an exciting, project-based exploration of emerging technologies in Spring 2016! We’ll work individually and in teams to master a wide variety of innovative technologies, and then use them to create a dynamic project showcasing the latest trends in innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship at FSU.

After discussing a variety of different project ideas (such as equipping cats with wifi sensors to map the campus network), we decided our class project would be to send a 3D printed copy of the FSU torches into space on a weather balloon, along with video cameras to capture the event, thereby merging 3D printing, virtual reality, and related technologies. In addition, given FSU’s capital campaign — “Raise the Torch” — this class would provide a unique opportunity for students to connect to that initiative. With the help of a weather balloon, the students in this class would raise the torch 20 miles into space!!

During the weeks leading up to the first class session, we carefully researched the challenges of sending a weather balloon into space. One of the reasons we chose this project was that it had been done many times before, and was therefore well-documented. Even so, we knew the devil would be in the details, and we were very grateful for the valuable guidance we received from such sites as Sent into Space, Project Icarus, and High Altitude Science. To help purchase the necessary equipment, we applied for and were generously awarded a $500 materials grant from the Grants for Engaged Learning (GEL) program at FSU.

We also wanted to make sure the students retained as much ownership as possible over the project — not just copying what others have done, but researching all the options available to them, and figuring out for themselves exactly what they wanted to design and how they would do it. The structure of the semester (beginning with five weeks of research and exploration, then moving through three phases of three weeks each for the students to design, deploy, and deliver on the project) was planned with an eye towards this goal.