Youth combine power of software and hardware at MAGIC camp

It was midafternoon Tuesday and six young people were arrayed around tables in the Ting Makerspace, in Westminster, with lines of computer code displayed on monitors and lines of analog circuitry arrayed in front of them. Here and there, tiny fans began to whir.

This was the Arduino Boot Camp, a project of both the makerspace and the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory, or MAGIC.


“They are working with servo motors, and they just connected a power circuit and a control circuit,” said Robert Wack, one of the two instructors for the week-long camp and president of the MAGIC board.

“The code is now allowing her to regulate the movement of the motor by turning that little knob, called a potentiometer,” he said, gesturing to one of the girls in the camp.


An Arduino is a combination of software and hardware, Wack said, a miniature computer with its own programming language but also physical circuitry, in this case resistors and knobs and motors and lights and switches, all stuck into a white “bread board,” which allows the construction of temporary circuits, unlike the permanently soldered metallic green boards found inside most consumer electronics.

Last week, the Makerspace launched a new website https://tingmakerspace.com. Now makers can watch tutorial videos and take safety quizzes before they visit the space. The organization is offering a variety of tutorials, demos, and workshops during the winter. 

“The first day, we just did the basics of how you operate the Arduino and program it. Yesterday we did sensors and actuators,” Wack said. “Today is motor day, you can see they are learning how to control a motor, how to power a motor.”

On Wednesday, 15-year-old Annie Xenakis, of Hampstead, was using her Arduino to try and create a model attic fan that monitors the attic temperature and can be turned off and on.

“Right this second I am trying to figure out how to measure the temperature and hook it up so it can read the temperature at the very least, and then power the fan also,” she said.

A fan of science and computers, Annie said she has been programming for awhile, and thought the class would be an interesting way to spend a week in the summer. It was the hardware components she found most challenging.

“I just did another camp on C++ and I took Java last year,” she said of her programming language experience. “I don’t know anything about electronic hardware.”

Alvaro Szigethi, 18, of Westminster, also found the hardware to be the most challenging. He wants to become a software engineer, but found the hardware aspect of the Arduino compelling.

Makerspaces are becoming all the rage in Carroll County. Earlier this week, the Ting Makerspace had an open house in Westminster, and Exploration Point! at the Eldersburg branch of the Carroll County Public Library celebrated its opening April 26.

“Most of the times I just don’t really know where to put the wires or the resisters, in general. I’m just kind of looking it up on the internet and trying to learn while doing it,” he said. “I am going to try to do some of this at home, because I have seen some pretty cool projects on the internet. The other day I saw some guy altered his garage door using the Arduino.”

On Tuesday, the campers programmed a buzzer, Wack said, and then, realizing it was essentially a speaker playing whatever was fed into it by software, soon had the Ting Makerspace filled with music pulled from the internet, including Rick Astley’s “Never gonna give you up.”

“We did the ‘Super Mario’ theme and the ‘Star Wars’ theme,” Annie said. “It was super fun.”

Although the projects in the camp are small-scale tinkering, they represent the combination of raw processing power, software and hardware development that has come to define cutting edge technologies today, according Mike DiPietro, a senior materials engineer with SAFTA America and the other instructor for the camp. The proliferation of small, powerful microcontrollers enabling all kinds of new gadgets.

“An example would be drones,” DiPietro said. “You need to have a microcontroller in a drone in order to change the speed of the propellers enough to have total control of the flight.”


While radio controlled airplanes with one propeller have been around for decades, he said, it takes a microcontroller to coordinate at high speed the balanced slowing down to the two front rotors and simultaneous speeding up of the two rear rotors of a quadcopter drone that is necessary to fly it forward.

“Those are brand new,” DiPietro said. “We did not have the processing speeds available to us five years ago in order to make a drone.”

Today it’s learning to build a miniature attic fan, but the skills the campers were learning could be put to much bigger use Thursday, including the MAGIC smart home project, according to Wack, which aims to record the home environment to better care for adults with disabilities.

“I am going to try and recruit some of these kids to build sensors for the smart home project, because now they know how to do it,” he said. “That’s a goal of that project, to get people innovating and creating.”

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