STEAM in Action

By Mrs. Amy Harmon Krtanjek

At the heart of STEAM is the intersection of technical and artistic, calculations and exploration.  At York Country Day School, opportunities to engage in interdisciplinary projects are what make the school day enriching and true to life.  This spring, our upper school students are collaborating on a project that is connecting engineering and robotics with theatre and studio arts as they create a robotic version of “the great Oz” for the upper school production of The Wizard of Oz.  

To bring Oz to life, third year Robotics students Jessica Babcock, Jagr Krtanjek, Christian Marino, Matthew Morrow, and Addison Wand are designing mechanisms to create expressions for a four foot head that will be center stage.  They are creating eyes that move, eyelids that blink, eyebrows that can show anger, surprise and skepticism, a mouth that moves with lines spoken by the actor, and LED and smoke special effects ⎼ all controlled by programmed systems similar to those the students use to build and compete with robots.  Oz will not look like a cyborg, thanks to the efforts of senior Gary Zhang, who is taking on sculpting the face for the Oz character, and working with the robotics students to integrate the two systems. This will be a new challenge for him to apply his skills on a large scale and into a piece that also has to accommodate motors, gears, and structure to operate.  

The robotics students have designed and built separate mechanisms in a quarter scale size to work out the details of movement and system integration.  They are applying their skills in Computer Aided Design (CAD), 3D printing, and mechanical design of linkages and mechanisms. They are now determining the components and structures needed for the full-scale model and are targeting a completed mechanical system by the end of March, so there is ample time for testing and rehearsal with the actors. They will program the system to be operated by actors who will use game controllers, just like the controls the GearHounds use in their robotics competitions.  This will allow the “virtual” actors controlling Oz with the ability to adjust facial expressions and timing of Oz’s lines for each production.

eyeball mechanism
This is a CAD drawing of the eye mechanism for OZ. The movement of the eyes along the x-axis and y-axis will help bring Oz to life. They will be built out of aluminum and polycarbonate.

It is an exciting application of our STEAM program.  We hope everyone in our community will come see The Wizard of Oz  on April 12, 13 & 14, to witness this milestone production.