Year 1: January Term Week 3

Hello all,


I'm now finished with January term and my Design and Innovation class. A few days off, then we'll start spring semester.

This project for Design and Innovation was quite the experience. We had one week to design a "smart home" furniture item to connect people across distance or time, and we weren't allowed to use screens, which forced us to think outside the box. Our group was assigned to modify IKEA coffee tables. We had to go through the entire design process from start to finish, with brainstorming, critiquing, prototyping, building, and debugging. Luckily, we had a team of professors who spent day and night helping us and guiding us to the right resources. While this class was extremely frustrating at times, I learned more practical skills in the 2 1/2 weeks of this class than I've learned in any other setting. I also spent a lot of time in the Engineering Design Studio, so now I'm more familiar with the equipment there.

My group had some of the most interesting people I've ever met, and I was so lucky to work with them. Their dedication and work ethic inspires me to be a better engineer. My roommate was in this class too, and it was so helpful to have her for moral support as we both worked late and worked hard! This class was an emotional roller coaster for sure, as we fought against quick deadlines and worked through so many technical difficulties. But we did it!

Here are just a few of the highlights of our design process


Screen printing with thermochromatic paint

Cutting out the table with help from the wood shop technicians

Messing around, laughing, annoying each other, arguing, discussing our countries, taking random pictures

3D printing custom parts to mount the sensors underneath the table

Using copper thread to heat the thermochromic paint from underneath

 My teammate's spiderweb of wires

Putting it all together... 

In the end, we came up with two coffee tables connected wirelessly. We created an embedded centerpiece that mimics a campfire: when more people gather around one table, the "fire" on the other glows more brightly (using LEDs and thermochromic paint). Likewise, if people aren't around, the opposite coffee table will be dim and the orange lines around the base will fade. We mounted infrared proximity sensors underneath the tables on all four sides.

But what these photos don't show is the effort behind the scenes. The time the wood machine messed up the table top and we had to start again from scratch. The time the Arduino burnt out. The time the wood cut was slightly off and we had to sand it to the right size. The time we came up with an idea only to change it completely at our instructor's suggestion. The time when the 3 guys were lying on their backs under the table mounting wires and sensors into the bottom, and I was above handing them parts and holding wires in place. The times we laughed uncontrollably at 2 a.m. at nothing in particular. The time we compared our countries' respective military capacities and threatened to kill one another (jokingly, of course...right?) The time we waited for two hours to use the laser cutter, only to misplace two of the cut parts and had to cut them again. The times the 3D printer went haywire and gave us a bent or broken piece, delaying things by another 30 minutes as we printed a new part. I am quickly realizing that trying to solve problems often creates a lot more problems to be solved, and engineering is often a "two steps forward, one step back" sort of process.

One of the highlights of the week was the exhibition where we got to show off our projects.

We look sharp

With the team of professors and some classmates
(notice my lovely roommate to the left of me)
Design and Innovation family

It's a little hard to see, but each pin in the map is a nationality represented in our Design and Innovation class

Another highlight of the week was celebrating my suitemate's surprise birthday party with dinner in the city and live music!

I also watched the presidential inauguration live on TV. President Donald Trump. Oh dear.

After so much time spent working on campus, I wanted to get back to adventuring a bit, so I went to Dubai for the day. I actually went by myself but then met up with some friends later in the day.

First, I went to Mall of the Emirates for a bit. It's the mall with the artificial indoor ski slope... I haven't skied on it yet but probably will at some point.

Ski Dubai indoor ski lifts
I then stopped by the Dubai Miracle Garden- it's the world's largest flower garden, with over 45 million flowers. It was a nice place to walk around and read a book. The flowers were assembled into enormous structures-- even a full-sized airplane covered in flowers!

I then met up with some friends at Dubai's Global Village. It's essentially a theme park with immersive areas set up for different countries of the world, with street food, handicrafts, and performances related to that country. While it was a little bit stereotyped/oversimplified (The U.S. station had a giant cowboy statue and a bunch of "Wild West" signs) it was still a fun place to explore!

Chinese acrobatics performance

Spanish dance performance

Egyptian cheese pastry with honey
I've had a lot of interesting conversations with taxi drivers lately. They mostly come from sub-Saharan Africa or South/ Southeast Asia. One of them recently told me that he came here from Pakistan and spoke very little English, not even enough to say how old he is, and now he has learned English in the past few months just from talking to passengers. Like a lot of people I talk to, he didn't seem to understand why I would leave the U.S. to study here; most workers and students from here dream of going to the U.S. to study/work, so it seems counterintuitive, I guess. He described his life now as mostly "Eat, sleep, work." He described how, before coming here, he had seen pictures of Dubai on the internet and how it looked like paradise with the tall skyscrapers. Then he gestured to an empty lot full of sandy desert tumbleweeds outside our window and said "Without buildings, this is Dubai. It's nothing." It wasn't that he was complaining or trying to make me feel sorry for him. The conversation wasn't like that at all. He just perfectly encapsulated, in simple words, the superficiality that sometimes comes with a place like this, for better or for worse. While I love it here, I miss real nature sometimes. Groomed parks and orderly flower gardens can't replace rafting down a river, skiing down a mountain slope, or trekking through tangled underbrush. It's beautiful in its own way, but deep down it's artificial.  That conversation really stuck with me for some reason. I have a new resolution to talk more with taxi drivers.

Anyway, life is good and I'm looking forward to the start of spring semester.

Goodnight from Saadiyat Island,