It’s not every day a plainclothes professional opera singer performs to the hum of industrial knitting machines. Nonetheless, it was the perfect display of synergy for the opening ceremony of Drexel’s Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies (ExCITe) Center
at the University City Science Center. Held on Wednesday, November 28, the celebration showcased surprising STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) combinations and permutations.
"In academia, it’s hard to collaborate outside your department," says Dr. Youngmoo Kim, director of the ExCITe center and professor of computer engineering at Drexel. "The whole purpose [of ExCITe] is to create multidisciplinary projects at this nexus between technology and the arts. There’s so much synergy there."
The 11,000-square-foot facility features conference rooms, countless desktops, sound equipment and a knit lab, all available to Drexel faculty, staff and students, regional partner institutions and other universities. The space will host hackathons and other tech and arts related events.
Opening demos included an app for understanding live classical music and a digitally-enhanced grand piano. ExCITe also houses and provides seed funds to three startup projects: a Microsoft Kinect therapy game for people with cerebral palsy; a virtual reality opera project made in partnership with the Philadelphia Opera Company; and Sonic City, a Breadboard project incorporating city sounds into musical pieces.
The Shima Seiki Haute Technology Knit Lab houses four top grade fabric machines, a donation from Shima Seiki Manufacturing in Japan worth $1 millon. The facility is unheard of in academia and, according to Kim, rivals Nike’s Design Lab. Each apparatus prints items designed on CAD software; during the grand opening event, the machines produced knit kitchen gloves, custom seamless dresses and three-ply blankets.
A knit-bot machine prints three-dimensional fabrics complete with electronic sensors. At the opening, a staff member hooked a spiraled piece of fabric into a control system and rolled it across the table remotely. Observers seemed impressed by the novelty, but Kim says knit-bot technology has implications for the future: One day you might be able to change the color and cut of your shirt with the press of a button, and sensors-enhanced fabrics could help individuals monitor health and weight. In addition, skins from these textiles could make plastic robots more resilient, while external sensors could help disaster-relief androids respond immediately to challenging environments.
Kim runs Drexel's Music Entertainment Technology Labratory, home to robots that dance and play music. He conceived of the center nearly two years ago while holding cross-departmental faculty meetings as a solution to academic silos. It wasn’t long before other key local institutions, including the Science Center, the Philadelphia Opera Company and the Franklin Institute, joined the planning.
"We can do great things here with Drexel folks, but there’s great people with ideas at Penn, UArts, Philadelphia University, Temple and Swarthmore," says Kim. “They’re people that we know. A lot of people throughout the region, not just in academia, helped shape this."
Youngmoo Kim, Drexel ExCITe