Alexa Siu has just finished her third year as a Ph.D. student at Stanford University studying human computer interaction in the university’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. A native of Panama City, Panama, Siu received her undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering from Georgia Tech. While she is still developing her plans for her doctoral thesis, Siu hopes to focus on shape-changing interfaces. These physically change as information is either entered or displayed, allowing people to interact with computer systems in a more tangible way than usual. “I’m particularly interested in using these interfaces in the area of technology accessibility for people who are blind or visually impaired,” Siu says.
HP: Can you tell us about your summer project at HP Labs?
I'm working in HP’s Immersive Experiences Lab, looking at how we can use auxetic materials to create 3D printed parts that have some kind of motion embedded in them. Auxetics are materials that grow in all dimensions when you pull on them. A piece of rubber will grow thinner when you stretch it. When you stretch an auxetic material, it grows longer but also becomes wider.
HP: How are these materials created?
Their auxetic properties are determined by the way that they are constructed. In the case of 3D printing, you design flexibility into the structure so that the resulting material will have the auxetic qualities that you need.
HP: What are you hoping to achieve by the end of your internship?
I’m hoping to create a tool kit that we can give designers to show them how to create 3D printed parts that are interactive. I’m also hoping to create some examples that combine the printed material with electronic components. You could imagine a printed lamp that you stretch or contract to change the light intensity, or a 3D printable robot that is able to move about as soon as you print it.
HP: How’s it going?
Well, I’m just a few weeks in. I’ve been getting familiar with HP’s newest 3D printer and trying to push its boundaries in terms of how thin it can print and how small the parts can be. So far, I’ve been prototyping a lot of small auxetic parts to see how well they work. This week my plan is to combine some of the parts I’ve developed so far into a more focused effort to show what’s possible.
HP: What’s the larger vision for auxetics and 3D printing?
What we’re thinking about here are things like simplifying machine assembly, or asking what kind of everyday applications could be enhanced by having shape-changing materials available to us.
HP: How is working at HP Labs different from other internships that you have done?
My other internships have been academic, so I’m noticing how big HP is. There are also a lot more resources available to you, even from different labs. In academia, most labs are very separate from each other. Here, everyone is happy to help each other out. I’ve been able to use resources in different labs and go and talk with the people in the Print Adjacencies and 3D Lab, for example, who know the most about how HP’s 3D printers work.
HP: What has struck you in particular about interning at HP Labs?
It's been great a learning experience so far and really interesting. People are also from very diverse academic backgrounds, which is really nice. When I'm in school, most of my peers are in my program, so we share similar ideas about what we're doing. Here, being exposed to a diversity of perspectives makes it more likely that you will think of ideas and applications that are new to your field.
HP: What do you like to do when you aren’t researching or studying?
I like traveling and hiking, whether it's local or abroad. I also like cooking a lot, experimenting with new recipes or ingredients I find at the store. Then I have a website and Twitter account that I try to keep up to date. You can find me at alexasiu.com or @alexafay.