Published: Oct. 9, 2018

On Aug. 31, ATLAS doctoral student HyunJoo Oh successfully defended her dissertation, “Computational Design Tools and Techniques for Paper Mechatronics,” which is focused on design tools and techniques for combining mechanical, electrical and computational components with paper crafting. The tools enable young learners and those who lack a background in mechanical engineering to design and build mechanical toys from paper and other everyday objects.

HyunJoo Oh

HyunJoo Oh

Oh’s web-based software system (papermech.net) helps beginners design mechanical movements by simulating component parameters, such as the sizes of gears and linkages, and then outputs paper parts using a desktop laser or razor cutter.  Paper was used to demonstrate the technique because it is lightweight, malleable, aesthetically appealing and inexpensive, and it can be worked with simple craft tools.

“Designing mechanical models requires understanding mechanical movements, visualizing relationships between component mechanisms and accurately predicting the behavior of mechanical systems,” said Mark Gross, ATLAS director and professor of computer science, who co-advised Oh with Michael Eisenberg, professor of computer science. “These skills are challenging even for experienced designers, and they are absent in novices.”

Oh’s research included three areas: building visionary paper mechatronic models by combining papercrafting with mechanical, electrical, and computational components; developing the tools and techniques that support novices to explore paper mechatronics; and conducting workshops where children, teachers and other novices create their own paper mechatronics using the tools and techniques.

In the workshops, participants designed and built their own mechanical movements, embedded servomotors with microcontrollers, and programmed the movements and adapted them to a variety of creations, despite having no relevant technical backgrounds. Throughout the workshop, they progressively achieved an advanced level of skill and understanding about mechanical movements, embedded-electronics and computing.The project furthers a style of engineering education that is both hands-on and  interdisciplinary, integrating elements of programming, electronics, and mechanical design. Crucial to Oh’s objectives, it is also playful and respectful of children's creativity.

“Exploratory construction can be a compelling means to promote creativity,” said Oh. “Some kids are more interested in art, some are more interested in engineering, some in programming. They start with their interest and widen their scope in an interdisciplinary medium, and while building them, they personalize and solidify learning with their stories.”

Oh gives the example of children building a bird from cardboard. “Regardless of age, when they develop their specific type of bird, they think of the bird’s personalities and situation and why it moves in certain ways.”

Oh holds two master’s degrees: one from Carnegie Mellon University in entertainment technology, and one in Media Interaction Design from Ewha Womans University, South Korea. In November, Oh moves to Atlanta, Georgia, to become an assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology for a joint appointment in the Schools of Industrial Design and Interactive Computing. She plans to continue her paper mechatronic project while expanding into other related areas.