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PROJECT PROFILE

P E E A D CH EN B A

ELDS I Y H C A O R P P A OPPOSITE N— U F T U B — L A U UNUS RISBURG R A H T A T C E J O R P s vastly different as EAST projects can be, there’s a fairly common process of thinking behind most of them: identify problem, fix problem. At least, that’s how it usually goes. This wasn’t the case for Harrisburg High School’s Tommy Maloney, though. “The hard part was applying it, I guess,” said the senior, who is finishing his third year in EAST and plans to go pre-med at Lyon College next year. “Usually there’s a problem and you have to figure out how to solve it. But with this, there was no problem really. We just built it.” The “it” he’s referring to is a bench that plays music, an idea his EAST facilitator saw and, given Tommy’s interest in coding, challenged him to try to replicate. “When people see it work, they tend to get excited, because it’s new and interesting,” Tommy said. “It’s something that doesn’t normally happen when you sit on a bench. Sometimes we’ll explain how it works to them before they sit down, sometimes we surprise them.” The project uses an Arduino microcontroller hooked up to a SparkFun 10

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Music Shield and attached to two metal plates at either end of the bench. When two people touch both plates at once and then touch each other, it creates an electrical circuit. A program loaded onto the Arduino tells the SparkFun to play a short selection of music. What music gets played is determined by the amount of resistance in the circuit.

So two people could touch hands and play one quick succession of high piano notes, but if they doused their hands in sanitizer and touched again, the notes would be different. The same would be true at different temperatures or in different humidity as well. A wide variety of environmental factors play into electrical resistance, making new music each time. “So, people can make different sounds. The program measures the resistance and each range of resistance is coded into the Arduino and assigned a different sound. And that’s pretty easy to mess with, too,” he explained. Easy once you get used to it, that is. Tommy admits that while he has worked on projects with the Raspberry Pi before, he was a total novice on the Arduino when he started this project.

O BY SPENCER WATS

“I really wasn’t comfortable with it, but my facilitator really encouraged me to use the Arduino this year. So I said ok, I’ll try it.” Learning took a lot of studying online tutorials. In fact, the whole bench project is out there online, with tutorials and schematics and everything. Tommy takes no credit for the idea, only the determination to try his hand at it.

“First we were just learning the Arduino by trying to get a light to blink. And I thought, we can’t even start the bench until I figure out how to get this thing to work. But I had told the computer we were using one type of Arduino when really it was a different one, so I couldn’t even upload a program to the Arduino because of that simple mistake. Looking back now, I’m like, wow, I’m so dumb. That’s the first thing you do!” But trial and error got him through, along with a lot of research. “People see a challenge like this and they think that it’s overwhelming or impossible, but you can find cool ‘doit-yourself’ videos on the internet. I think those intimidate some people,” he said. “People think I came up with this on

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Spring 2017 EQ  

The quarterly magazine of the EAST Initiative.

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