Is it art or engineering? What about both?
That’s what students at Florida State University ask themselves each day in Mechatronic Art II. The course looks to combine the artsy with the ergonomic, the interesting with the innovative. It takes students from different disciplines and forces them to collaborate to craft new solutions. Few could argue against a strong connection between engineering and art, and FSU uses this to its full advantage.
The Mechatronic Art II Class melds the engineering and art students in the same pot. Two faculty members lead the course. Dr. Jonathan Clark currently researches robotic movement in the STRIDE lab of the College of Engineering. Assistant Professor Rob Duarte works on the combination of electromechanical systems and computer control to discuss the social and political aspects of technology.
The goal of our collaborative course was to have students from the fields of engineering and art teach each other aspects of their own domains,” Duarte says. “We wanted them to recognize the overlap in the two seemingly disparate fields: from developing ideas through sketching on paper to programming microcontrollers.”
Both professors wanted to push students out of their comfort zones by teaching them new ways of seeing engineering solutions. The students named their final project “Time Odyssey,” which became an installation in the Tallahassee Challenger Learning Center. FSU Art students Kathryn-kay Johnson, Holly Weinrauch, and Daniel Rodriguez met frequently with the FSU Engineering students, Wei Gao, Brian Roberts, Tyler Jonas, Charlie Carbiener, Robert Cook, and Jason Brown. The cooperation combined the different disciplines to design new software, electronics, mechanics and systems.
“In a lot of ways it was very refreshing,” Carbiener says. “The art students came to the discussions and brought to the work a perspective that I hadn’t encountered in engineering. The ideas we had were grander than they would have been.”
In Mechatronic Art I, students focused on the low-level details of making robots, the history of robotics, and electronic art. Each art student developed a character in writing. They then created a robot that reflected the persona they imagined.
The students installed two mechatronic art projects as one installation. The installation included a space-themed pod and an accompanying buckyball model of the Earth. The piece was made mostly of tracing paper among other materials. Inside the Earth model, LED lights respond to the pedaling from observers in the pod below. Whenever an observer starts to pedal, the Earth spins and time moves faster.