May 27, 2014

Developing a 3D Map for Cambridge

Andrew Volpe, BEET ’15, stands next to LuminoCity

Andrew Volpe, BMET ’15, recently completed a co-op with MIT Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded research and development center in Lexington, Mass. During his co-op, he co-authored a research paper chosen to be featured at April’s Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) conference. He shares some thoughts on his experience below.

During my co-op at Lincoln Labs, I helped develop the LuminoCity, a 3D-printed version of part of the Kendall Square area in Cambridge. The project received recognition in the Lincoln Labs newspaper, and I was thrilled to be listed as a co-author on the research paper for the device, the patent papers, and the plaque that mounts on the device itself.

The device displays images of the City of Cambridge on a series of clear plastic models. Images shown include a color-coded height chart of buildings, flood maps, traffic, and key buildings of interest. We made a working model, which can be used for city planning, disaster relief, or tactical military purposes.  My role entailed designing, fabricating, and experimenting with different ways to mount the electronics and hardware inside the case for the model, as well as building the case itself.

The journey started when I got an email from a co-worker inviting me to attend the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) conference with him on April 14 and 15. The conference was filled with interesting presentations and demonstrations, including a look at how robots are created. There were robots that could work in hospitals and lift people off their beds to move to other rooms, robots that picked up potted plants and moved them to other locations on farms, and robots that didn’t really have a practical purpose, but were cool and interesting all the same because of how they operated.

I got a chance to talk to a number of interesting and knowledgeable people at the conference, each of them giving me a better understanding of robotics, how far we’ve come, and what we will strive for in future years.

On the last day of the conference, my coworker gave a presentation on the LuminoCity, and I provided the demonstration. It was a big hit with everyone there, although it wasn’t a robot. Many people thought it was interesting to see all of the different maps projected onto the city. They also liked how the case looked on the outside and how everything on the inside looked simple at a glance, but much more detailed and complex at a closer look. Some people even gave us suggestions on what we could do to make it better, like using LED screens, or providing us ideas on how to implement it in the world around us.

My experience in classes such as thermo, fluid mechanics, strength of materials, AutoCAD, and statics have given me the knowledge needed to succeed in this co-op position. I am extremely grateful that Wentworth has co-op programs. Real learning takes place through experience, not just classrooms. Co-op programs are essential to see where your books and the real world meet.

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