Students in iSchool Course Create Skittle-sorting Machines (and Much More)

Students in a School of Information course and a biomedical engineering course were able to showcase their gadget-design and computer-programming skills in a candy-sorting competition at the end of spring semester.

The students tested 36 Skittle-sorting machines their teams had created. The challenge: accurately sort the highest number of Skittles in the least amount of time.

The competition was the culmination of undergraduate courses for students in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ School of Information, or iSchool, and the College of Engineering’s biomedical engineering department.

The biomedical engineering course was co-taught by Urs Utzinger, professor of biomedical engineering, and David Lesser, a UA graduate student who serves on the board of Xerocraft, a Tucson hackerspace and makerspace group.

The iSchool class ISTA 303 Creative Coding had 20 students this past spring and was taught by Peter Jansen, an assistant professor in the School of Information.

 “I designed this course to be about learning introductory rapid prototyping skills, like laser cutting, 3D printing, and Arduino electronics. in a very hands-on way,” said Jansen.

The course included a number of skill-building projects that teach aspects like sensors and visualization to basics about robotics. The students were required to extend their projects in some way, through coding, visualization, or additional rapid prototyping.

“Through making and building activities like those engaged in the iSchool's ISTA 303, students learn to solve problems, but can also learn about topics like labor markets, carbon or related environmental impact of supply choices, production costs, and so on," said Catherine Brooks, associate director of the School of Information.

The students put their new rapid prototyping skills to the test by designing, building, and writing the software for machines that sort skittles.

“The skittle sorting competition was a fantastic learning experience for the students,” Jansen said. “On the surface, sorting skittles by sensing their color is conceptually straightforward, but the secret is all in the details.”

First and second place honors went to iSchool teams and a biomedical engineering team took third place with their Skittle-sorting machine.

Benjamin David Shields along with team member Shlishaa Savita won first place for their skittle sorter, which he says they named Rainbow Licker. They laser engraved a cartoon unicorn on its lid along with the caption "Sort the rainbow, Taste the rainbow." He believes their fastest round at the competition was 34 seconds for 60 Skittles with 100 percent accuracy.

“We spent a lot of time working on the code to detect skittle colors as accurately as possible, while trying to mitigate the ambient light of the environment," Shields said. "There were an abundance of incredibly clever and powerful designs that day at the competition.”

Shields, who graduated with a B.S. in computer science this May, said he enjoyed the workshop style of ISTA 303.

“Peter Jansen taught us real skills that I can apply when using 3D printers, laser cutters, building circuits, and programming micro-controllers,” Shields said. “It was extremely fulfilling to make tons of mistakes, learn from each and every one, and finally show friends something that you built, something that childhood Ben would never have dreamed was possible in this day and age.”

Bryan Heidorn, director of the School of Information and a judge at the Skittle-sorting competition, said that the school wants to open up more sections of the course next year. He also hopes corporate partners will participate in the class and lab.


Written by Lori Harwood in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Jill Goetz in the College Engineering

Engineering story here.

More photos below!

Published Date: 

06/05/2017 - 3:59pm