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Senior Takes Final Project to Another Galaxy

Published: December 14, 2016
Ryan Hoffman ’16 is one of the 518 graduates being honored Saturday, Dec. 17.
Ryan Hoffman ’16 is one of the 518 graduates being honored Saturday, Dec. 17.
For his senior project, he created a Bluetooth-controlled replica R2-D2.
For his senior project, he created a Bluetooth-controlled replica R2-D2.


A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, or rather the beginning of a semester seemingly far, far away, Ryan Hoffman ’16 embarked on a mission to create something indicative of his cumulative knowledge: the senior project.

But Hoffman doesn’t like to do anything that doesn’t push him. So he combined two senior projects — with Douglas Sutherland, assistant professor of art, and Corey George, the multimedia lab coordinator and lecturer in communication — plus help with computer coding from Santiago Echeverry, associate professor of art, into creating a Bluetooth-controlled replica R2-D2 of Star Wars fame.

“A senior project is a collaboration of what you’ve learned throughout your time at UT where you make something on your own to show your professors this is what you taught me, this is what I’ve done, this is how far I can go,” said Hoffman, a digital arts major graduating Dec. 17 in UT’s Fall Commencement. “I keep pushing myself further and further and further. I probably could have been done with this a long time ago, but I keep wanting to add more and more to it.”

With his professors’ mentorship and a lot of self-driven research, Hoffman utilized one of the communication department’s 3-D printers. But for anyone who’s never used one, it’s not the same as making a Xerox copy.

First, he had to be familiar with several computer programs such as Maya, a computer animation and modeling software. He had to understand how the 3-D printer works (it prints pieces that are then assembled together, IKEA-style) how to draw and design the plan to be printed, and then to be patient through the 700 hours of printing the 64 pieces.

Then there was the programming of the Arduino board (brain of R2-D2) which involved soldering electronics, creating an application for Hoffman’s phone and programming the computer code to allow Hoffman to turn R2’s head, activate sound and move the wheels, all while working in synchronicity with each other. The entire process involved constant troubleshooting along the way.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of stuff without Corey and Doug, that’s for sure. Also Santy gets a lot of credit as he helped me push the coding system, understand the code and how it all works,” said Hoffman, noting that he has developed a personal relationship with his professors, reaching out to them on Facebook and with text message whenever he hit a stumbling block.

“This shows that I’ve actually gone past where my teachings have gone,” Hoffman said. “They’ve inspired me to be more than what I’ve learned.”

While he might be from Kansas, his friends joke that he lives in the Cass lab. But Hoffman said it’s been worth it.

“We are our biggest critic, and this is actually the first project I’ve ever had that I feel a sense of accomplishment and happiness,” he said. “I want to show this off. It’s the first thing I’ve ever done where people could go, ‘Wow!’”

Hoffman, a U.S. Air Force veteran who deployed twice, said he chose UT because they accepted the GI Bill and because it was friendly to veterans.

“Because when you get out of the military, being a veteran is very difficult. No one helps you acclimate back into society,” he said. “UT helps with that. I talked with a lot of veterans here — it’s a good community, and they help each other out.”

After commencement, Hoffman will have a little over two weeks of rest before unpacking his R2-D2 at his new home at the Savannah College of Art and Design where he will pursue a Master of Arts in Animation. He hopes to have a career in virtual reality designing models that assist with military training or rehabilitation.

The University’s 143rd commencement will be held on Saturday at 9:30 a.m. in the Bob Martinez Athletics Center. The ceremony will include 518 graduates, including 391 bachelor’s degree candidates and 127 master’s degree candidates. Read the full story: University of Tampa Fall Commencement Saturday, Dec. 17

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