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Students' cyborg creations allow you to play puppeteer

University College staff have given two local students a taste of the new Associate Degree in Applied Technologies, through the creation of two cyborg puppets for this week’s Museum of Old and New Art's MONA FOMA summer festival in Launceston.

Eleanor Ivery, 17, a St Patrick's College student, and Sebastian Knevett, 21, a third-year University of Tasmania ICT student, have spent the past few weeks bringing the large puppets to life by rigging them with sensor technology to allow control of their limb movement.

University College Coordinator - Associate Degree (Applied Technologies) Dr Anna Carew said the puppets would be part of the MONA FOMA exhibition Art of body: health, beauty and desire at the Academy Gallery, in Inveresk.

Dr Carew congratulated the two students on their creations Trinity and Moss, and noted how successfully the students led the project and demonstrated what it takes to be an automation professional.

“Eleanor and Sebastian faced many pressures and the chaos of designing and implementing a technical and artistic project in a real workplace. It was good fun but crazy with lots of time pressure, people to negotiate with and tonnes of background noise thanks to this being a working exhibition space,” Dr Carew said.

The puppets are currently mounted on the wall at the Academy Gallery and can be controlled through wireless sensors by members of the public willing to give the technology a try.

Co-creator Sebastian said the project highlight was seeing how quickly the puppets took shape with the tools and technology used to bring them to life.

“There was a lot of trial and error involved especially trying to figure out how the motor works to control the puppets,” he said.

“We realised early on that we needed to delegate some tasks to UC staff who were specialists in hardware for example, and were able to answer those questions.”

Eleanor said she was looking forward to seeing how the public interacts with the puppets,  who are named after characters from The Matrix (Trinity) and The IT Crowd (Moss).

“The puppets will be really visible so anyone who comes along to see them can play puppeteer and interact with them by activating the sensors and seeing what they do,” she said.

“They can make the puppets move, like they are dancing. It’s all a bit creepy in how we’re able to control the puppets in a sense.”  

Dr Carew said the blend of art and technology used in creating the puppets for the MONA FOMA festival showcases the contemporary and modern work practices that graduates need to develop.

“When we designed the Applied Technologies Associate Degree, we went out and talked to industry about what they wanted from our graduates,” Dr Carew said.

“They wanted graduates who could cope with the full range of things that life throws at you when you’re trying to do a real project.

“You need to be technically proficient, but you also need to be able to communicate clearly with other people, have some humility, work to tight deadlines and also be very creative in the way that you solve problems. Most real-life problems don’t have clear-cut answers, and the students showed great lateral thinking in finding the best solution.”

With sensors omnipresent and influencing our everyday lives, Dr Carew said the Applied Technologies course was catering to a growth area.

“A lot of people would realise we have sensors everywhere in our lives – they are in our cars, buildings, in our phones, and we rely on these sensors to collect information that helps make life more convenient for us,” she said.

“The Tasmanian industry needs people who have a good understanding, not just of what those sensors are doing, but how to calibrate them, how to troubleshoot them, how to get the information they collect into useful forms to support decision-making, and how to apply them in new areas.

“These people would allow us to develop things like value-added primary products, our metals refining industry and our advanced manufacturing. We could make our buildings smarter and improve our approaches to healthcare. There are so many places that sensors have the potential to change how we do business and live.”

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Pictured: Students Eleanor Ivery, 17, and Sebastian Knevett, 21, with Moss, one of their two cyborg puppet creations, showcased at this year’s MONA FOMA summer festival. The project is a showcase for the University College’s new Associate Degree in Applied Technologies.

Published on: 17 Jan 2019 3:56pm