Tung presents ‘The Grid’ at White House Maker Faire

October 9, 2014 — by Fiona Sequeira

Sophomore Matthew Tung and his team were at the White House Maker Faire on June 17 as honored guests to present their project, “The Grid.”

President Obama scanned the gathering of students from all over the country at the first annual White House Maker Faire. Seated in the crowd was sophomore Matthew Tung, who listened raptly as the president emphasized the importance of “making” for young kids and how it is a key quality in the advancement of the nation.

Tung and his team, including sophomore David Dunaway from Harker, freshman Sami McGinnis from Valley Christian, and freshman Andrew Ke from Cupertino High, were at the White House Maker Faire on June 17 as honored guests to present their project, “The Grid.” The Faire’s purpose was to celebrate exciting developments in the arts, crafts, engineering, and science as well as the “do-it-yourself” mindset.

The Grid is a giant interactive platform that is mainly used to run interactive game modes or to power the mobile game Flow. The game, rated an average of 4.6 out of 5 by 208,000 people on the Android Market, is a highly addictive Flash game where players draw “pipelines” connecting dots of different colors together. The pipelines cannot touch the pipelines of other colors, and all of the spaces on the grid must be used. Flow has always been restricted to the screen of a smartphone or iPad, but Tung and his team made an interactive, life-size version possible with The Grid.

According to Tung, the team owed its success in being invited to the White House purely to its willingness to try.

“When my team first heard about the Faire, we decided we may as well apply, not thinking that we would even have a shot,” Tung said. “We applied and continued to work on it until we finally got the acceptance letter as honorary makers. It probably didn’t hurt that we had attended a couple of Maker Faires in the past and received awards. Nonetheless, I believe the important part is that we tried.”

Tung and his team flew out the Tuesday before the White House Makers Faire. That night, they prepared for their presentation, scheduled the following morning. On the day of the Faire, they arrived at the White House at dawn and suffered through a long line to clear security.

“The checkpoint was quite impressive, complete with badges for everyone as well as intimidating detection dogs,” Tung said.

After passing security, they were led to a room in the White House where they attended a conference with other makers and government officials, including representatives from the Department of Defense and Department of Education.

“This little gathering was great in that it showed just how much people cared about the Maker movement,” Tung said.

Next came the part that everyone was eagerly anticipating: President Obama’s address. Obama told them that he fully supports the Maker movement and wants to encourage the next generation in its building pursuits.

Following the address, Tung and his team were given an exclusive tour of the White House Maker Faire.

“Being at the White House was awesome,” Tung said. “The place is immaculate. It was also fun to see so many maker projects inside the White House. All of them were ingenious and very inspiring.”

Unfortunately, Tung did not have the chance to meet President Obama personally, even though he was in the adjacent room. However, he did meet another notable figure: Bill Nye

“We saw him and awkwardly walked up, introduced ourselves and asked for a picture,” Tung said. “It doesn’t sound like much, but it was pretty cool to meet such a central figure in education and the science community.”

Near the end of the Faire, Tung and his team received a ribbon for being “White House Makers.” Combined with ribbons received at other Maker Faires, Tung and his team have been awarded a total of 17 ribbons. In 2013 alone, The Grid won six Editor’s Choice Awards and four Educator’s Choice Awards at the Maker Faire: Bay Area in May and the World Maker Faire in New York in September.

At the close of the Faire, Tung and his team headed to the airport, where they rushed home in order to return in time for pre-existing plans.

“We received pretty late notice about the Faire, so I had to rush to make it back to attend the band trip in Spain which was in two days. It was a pretty hectic but very exciting week,” Tung said.

Tung first thought of the idea for The Grid when he and another team member wanted to bring a project to a Maker Faire.

“At the time, the game Flow was pretty popular at school, so we decided to make a life-size version of it,” said sophomore David Dunaway, Tung’s teammate from Harker.

The first step in Tung’s two-year long project was to model the idea on a computer software program called SketchUp. Tung and Dunaway decided it would be best if it had a grid-like structure that consisted of tiles that could be interchangeable. Next, they started cutting out pieces of the tiles on the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine.

As the project progressed, Tung and his partner invited two more members to help with the assembly process and the software aspect that came later. As a team, they expanded the size of the Grid to its current 8-by-8 dimensions, and also developed interactive programs to improve the Flow game program.

“The tiles have to communicate with their neighboring tiles, so we had to wire connections between tiles by hand and some connections were not as reliable as we would have liked when we tested them manually,” Tung said. “We realized we needed more help if we were going to make this happen.”

The project was a major time commitment that required ongoing dedication from its team members.

“Many times, it was frustrating to have to work on the project as well as keep up with homework and saxophone practice,” said freshman Sami McGinnis, Tung’s teammate from Valley Christian. “However, we all continued with the project and it paid off, and we learned that we should always see our commitments through.”

At the culmination of the White House Makers Faire, Tung reflected on one of the main lessons that developing The Grid has imparted, the importance of simply trying.

“Even if you think you won’t succeed, the chance that you might is still worth the risk and effort,” he said. “I’ve learned that you can make anything you dream of and more. I’m pretty sure that none of us thought that The Grid would be what it is today, but anything is possible as long as you work at it.”

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