As part of CCI’s EG35101 spring course, Industry and Community-Based Innovation Projects, led by Jay Brockman, a team of Notre Dame students utilized VSA (Visual Show Automation) program and Arduino software to help showcase the ability to create animations using puppets. The project, known as Animatronics, engaged 1st-5th grade students in making an interactive workshop with the Center for Civic Innovation Youth Programs. VSA is a program that is used for creating, editing and running animatronic shows. The main goal for this project was to create a workshop for school-aged children that combined science, engineering and the arts to introduce students to animatronics and heighten their interest in STEM.
Students included Lydia Csaszar, who is pursuing a dual degree in Computing and Applied Mathematics & Computer Engineering from St. Mary's and Notre Dame (‘23), and Caroline Collins, who is pursuing a degree in Environmental Science from Notre Dame (’25) . Two students pursuing Computer Science degrees at Notre Dame, Livia Johan (‘23) and Dylan Vonderhorst (‘25), had been on the fall semester Animatronics team and joined as Student Leads. The team worked with Paul Dietz, former Disney Imagineer and current entrepreneur.
“My favorite part of the event was seeing the kids' eyes light up when they saw their creations move on the servos,” Csaszar said.
Johan said her favorite part was when one of the students asked her how the animatronics worked. “Our goal with the workshop was ultimately to spark these kids’ interest in technology and engineering, so that student asking more questions indicated to me that we had accomplished what we had set out to do.”
Over the semester, the team also collaborated with a group of students from Assistant Teaching Professor in the Computer Science and Engineering department Dr. Shreya Kumar’s class to create a web based version of the VSA (Visual Show Automation) program.
While Csaszar and Collins were focused on planning a workshop for local school-aged children, the other Animatronics students worked on creating a more user-friendly and accessible version of VSA. The goal is that a web based version of VSA would make animatronics accessible to students and schools who may otherwise not have the funding to purchase VSA licenses.
Collins talked about what she had personally gained from the project, saying, “After completing this project, I have come to realize that engineering is such an impactful area of study because there are many opportunities for creativity and innovation, and it is motivating to see younger students involved and excited about the work we are doing.”