Robotic hand helps grab grand prize BY TOM KNAPP, Staff Writer
At heart, Matthew Campagna is a musician.
But, after competing three years in the North Museum Science & Engineering Fair and going home without a win, Campagna decided to change his focus. Instead of music -- his previous projects dealt with the science of acoustics -- he decided this year to buckle down on something a little more in line with his career goals.
It worked. Campagna, who longs to be an engineer, developed a voice-controlled robotic hand that earned him the grand champion trophy at this year's science fair.
The slim young man, dressed for the awards ceremony in a black suit, magenta shirt and silver tie, will go on to compete in the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair, the world's largest science competition, to be held May 12 through 17 in Phoenix, Ariz.
Campagna, the 16-year-old son of Chuck and Beth Campagna, Lancaster, also won six auxiliary prizes, including the Intel Excellence in Computer Science Award and first place awards from the Pennsylvania Society of Professional Engineers, the Lancaster chapter of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the U.S. Army.
"I wanted to develop an invention that would benefit people, something to help them," he said.
Campagna's project -- presented in a tidy display of black, white and blue documentation -- builds on voice recognition technology used for smartphones and personal computers.
He started work the day after last year's fair, he said -- progressing rapidly from two-dimensional drawings to 3-D computer renderings and, finally, a working arm.
The voice control eliminates the need for "cumbersome means of operation," he explained. It is "functionally independent ... (and) free of external control units."
The program was developed in the C computer language, which Campagna said he was versed in before beginning the project.
Working with machinist Paul Eichelberger, Campagna had a working model in his hands by January.
Well -- not working in a literal sense, he admitted.
"There were some rotation problems with the servo," he said. "There were some problems in the code. And the motherboard melted -- well, let's say it had a short."
He went back to the drawing board to find and fix the problems, he said, and had a two-fingered robotic hand that opened and closed on command by early March.
"Triple check everything," is the biggest lesson he takes away from the past year's labors.
Campagna's already planning improvements to the hand, which he expects to bring back to next year's science fair with Bluetooth capability, a wrist joint and a third finger projection.
And, although it's currently programmed to answer solely to Campagna's voice, "I could program it in a matter of minutes to respond to anyone's voice," he said.
Despite his success with robotics, Campagna hopes for a career in chemical engineering.
He suspects robotics will keep him occupied through his high school years, however.
"I'll probably start working on it soon," Campagna said.
Tomorrow? "No ... I'm definitely taking a break," he said.