Transformations: Students Find Creativity at Intersection of Art and Engineering

July 18th, 2016 / University Comm...

Inspired by the desire to help broaden boundaries for vision-impaired people, three Princeton University students created an armband device that allows a wearer without the ability to see to interpret color.

The project emerged from a new class offered for the first time this spring, "Transformations in Engineering and the Arts," and lived up to the name of the course. In addition to transforming the sensation of color from a visual to a tactile experience, the students transformed an idea born on a whiteboard into a product interweaving engineering concepts and artistic practices.


From left, students Noah Fishman, Nora Bradley and Sunny He prepare a device they designed that allows visually impaired people to experience color.

"Having a forum where our imagination is the limit has been an incredible experience," said Nora Bradley, a sophomore majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering who worked with senior music major Noah Fishman and sophomore Sunny He of electrical engineering.

The team's device uses a sensor to identify whatever color passes under it, then "displays" the hue by turning a rotary dial labeled in Braille. Two motorized pointers slide along metal bars to indicate the relative saturation and brightness of the color.

"[In this class,] you tend to work with people with different backgrounds, which is something you don't generally see," Fishman said. "I had a lot of fun working with everyone trying to work out the best way to streamline the device and solve problems together."

He, who worked on the coding and color sensor portion of the project, said the class built a community of faculty and students that created a positive environment to explore different ideas.

A partnership between the Council on Science and Technology, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Department of Music, and the Lewis Center for the Arts, the class stemmed from several conversations with faculty and students interested in the intersection of arts and engineering.

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