March 5, 2014

Imagine walking into a room only to be greeted by a window that recognizes your presence in the space.

One LSU College of Engineering undergraduate student is researching the best way to make that vision a reality.

Kathryn Williams, computer engineering senior and undergraduate researcher, is building what she calls interactive “digital stained glass windows” made of liquid-crystal display (LCD) glass and Raspberry Pi computers. When finished, the windows could react to a number of different things: voice command, human movement or even a Twitter hashtag.

Williams works with Dr. Robert Kooima, assistant professor of computer science, who came up with the idea and is leading Williams to build the software.

Kooima works in the Louisiana Digital Media Center, an LSU space built in 2012. The building is bare and doesn’t have much furniture yet, Kooima said, but it is a blank canvas for creative ideas.

“What should we do with this space? The most prominent feature is that semi-circle window,” he said, pointing to an open room outside his office. “I suggested we put an LCD there and it will be lit by sunlight.”

“An LCD is in fact just a piece of glass that changes color with a bright light behind it. If you look through that glass without the light, it still changes color,” Kooima said.

The purpose of the interactive window would show visitors what the LSU Center for Computation & Technology, housed in the Louisiana Digital Media Center, does on a daily basis.

“The overarching objective was to display to people what it is the faculty and students of Cultural Computing do,” Kooima said. “The signage and interactivity would flesh out that information.”

Some buildings on LSU’s campus house LCD signs, but many are connected to the same single computer. This digital stained glass would be different because it is lit by sunlight rather than TV software, and because it includes its own individual Raspberry Pi computer, which would make maintenance more manageable.

“By taking one of these little computers, you have a more self-contained installation,” Kooima said.

To develop this new software, Williams works with three LCD screens connected to three Raspberry Pi computers. The challenge is to connect the separate computers and manipulate them to act as if they were one.

“We have these nice transparent displays here. We have them powered by these tiny computers,” Williams said, pointing to her work.

A translucent pink square popped on the display whenever a new tweet containing “#cats” was posted anywhere on Twitter. Williams said this feature could possibly be used if an event with an official hashtag is held in a space with the digital stained glass window.

To recognize human presence, the glass will eventually be programmed to a Kinect sensor to interact with certain movements.

“This will eventually go on a window and will look like a window, except you’ll have stuff going on. You’ll be able to interact with a window, which is a neat, novel idea,” Williams said.

Kooima said the windows would not only interact with visitors, but also enhance the space aesthetically.

“It seems to me that everything is becoming digital. And why not glass? Why can’t windows be digitally enhanced?” he said. “Why not have art on the windows that change in response to the weather, or who’s in the room?”

Williams said she sees the project as an opportunity to create in a way that only computers offer. She’s been interested with computers since a young age, and finds undergraduate research entertaining.

“I’ve been playing with computers since I was about 7 or 8 years old,” she said. “I just found myself very interested in how they work at a very young age.”

From building websites to coding and now to building this innovative software, Williams said computers interest her greatly.

“I enjoy the puzzle-like aspect of it. I think it’s fun. There’s this creative side to it,” she said.


Article by Danielle Kelley, LSU College of Engineering communications intern. Photos by Laura Juengling, LSU College of Engineering Communications Coordinator.

For more information, contact Mimi LaValle, College of Engineering, or (225) 578-5706.

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