Jacob Smith '21 maintains connectivity with electronics workshops

arduino board

An arduino board.

Being thousands of miles from some of his classmates hasn’t stopped Jacob Smith ’21 from keeping up with one of his favorite campus activities.

Before the response to the coronavirus required most students to go home, Jacob Smith ’21 taught electronics workshops as a student worker in the Brandeis  Automation Lab, part of Brandeis Library’s Research Technology and Innovation (RTI) department. The workshops walk participants through programming and wiring sensors that can be used with Arduino microcomputers, a relatively easy to use open-source electronics platform.

Smith, a computer science major, now holds weekly workshops via Zoom. Participants need to register in advance, and a kit of electronic sensors and the Arduino - a fairly inexpensive setup with a lot of potential applications - is then mailed to them from the manufacturer. From his family home in Baltimore, Smith walks the participants through the wiring and programming, but unlike the typical workshops, he can’t physically fix their mistakes.

jacob smith

Jacob Smith

“It’s actually a little bit of a benefit that I can’t physically help them,” Smith said. “They kind of have to figure it out themselves.”

The sensors were purchased for Smith by RTI, allowing him to keep the workshops going, which have been filling up each week.

“When Jacob came to us with this, it was obvious that we should do it,” said Timothy Hebert, head of the Automation Lab. “It’s a really effective way to continue our mission.”

Smith has also been holding similar virtual workshops with the Augmenting the Human Initiative at Brandeis. The collaborative project, led by Vivek Vimal, PhD’17, focuses on using technology to enhance human learning and performance. Smith’s workshops for the initiative involve prototypes that give tactile feedback to users, which could be used to monitor and correct a person’s spatial orientation.

When he is on campus, Smith pursues his passion for robotics and electronics as president of the robotics club. Recently, he secured a Spark grant to establish a startup named Arduino Helper, which serves as an open-source tool for Arduino software.

“A lot of colleges have a lot of smart people and a lot of resources, but Brandeis has more than that,” Smith said. “Brandeis has people who really care about sharing their expertise with other people, and students who are very curious.”

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