Carlos Alonso turns a piece of copper sheeting over in his hands. Smaller than a credit card, the metal surface is etched with a complicated pattern of holes and grooves.
“I designed this circuit board using a CNC milling machine to create the paths for the circuits. Now I can take this over to the soldering station and wire everything together,” he says.
Two years ago, Carlos was a new graduate of Full Sail’s Game Development bachelor’s program. He knew quite a bit about coding, but wanted to explore the intersection of hardware and software. At the time, Full Sail was just launching its Simulation & Visualization bachelor’s. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to deepen his understanding of how code and the machines that run on code interact with each other. He enrolled in the program, and spent the ensuing 20 months as the sole student.
“In a sense, I was the guinea pig for this program. Since I was the only student, the classes I had weren’t traditional. I had a chance to learn one-on-one with all of my teachers, and in many ways it felt like an actual job since I was spending close to 40 hours a week on projects.”
At its heart, simulation is all about problem solving. Its applications extend to nearly every industry—from safer military trainings to more efficient medical procedures to better designed parking garages. Being able to create virtual projections has huge implications when it comes to cost efficiency. And of course, realistic simulations are set to revolutionize the entertainment industry in the age of virtual and augmented reality.
Without the benefit of a cohort, Carlos’ instructors modified the curriculum to function more like an independent study course.They offered guidance and intensive instruction along the way, but allowed him to dream up his own projects and find solutions as the arose. In other words, they offered him unprecedented creative autonomy. He also had access to the program’s brand new workspace, the FabLab. Chock full of tools like 3D printers, laser cutters, and injection molding machines, it’s a veritable playground for anyone interested in, well, making cool stuff.
Carlos’ first project was constructing a working model of a Stewart platform, a robotic motion device that provides six degrees of freedom to objects resting on the its surface. It’s technology commonly used in flight simulators and indoor rides at theme parks. For Carlos, the model became something of an obsession.
“He carried that motion platform around everywhere he went,” says Pat Starace, Course Director for Digital Fabrication.
He recalls a moment when Carlos got stuck on a particularly difficult bit of math necessary to move the project forward. “We kept offering him lifelines, and he wouldn’t take them. I watched him work on that problem for days. I left the lab that Friday, and when I came in on Monday morning he had it worked out. His ability to overcome challenges is amazing.”
“His involvement is going to have an effect on every other student that comes through the program,” adds Rob Catto, Program Director for Simulation & Visualization. “Because he was a single person, we were able to iterate the curriculum and perfect processes. We would not have been able to do that in a class of 20 people.”
It’s a legacy Carlos, who graduated in March, is perpetuating through his current work as a Simulation Engineer Intern for the program, where he’s able to mentor incoming students. Beyond that, he’s keeping his options open. He still carries the motion platform with him, only now it’s to job interviews and conferences. He’s also passionate about taking his skills abroad. In the clip below, Carlos discusses his home country of Guatemala, which has a rich technological history despite having limited resources.
Innovation is never easy, and Carlos will be the first to tell you that his time in the program was not without challenges. But rather than allow himself to get bogged down in those challenges, he chose to view them as opportunities instead of setbacks.
“Failure is essential to progress, because we learn from our mistakes,” he says.
Another motivator? The support of his family. In the following clip, Carlos describes how his father reacted the first time he visited the FabLab.
For now, Carlos is sticking around. But it won’t be long until he’s off, on to the next project and whatever comes after.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better first graduate,” says Pat. “I just know he’s going to do great things.”