WSUV students seek inspiration for 'Autovation'

Group working on exhibit for OMSI visit Dick Hannah collision center

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

Published:

 
photoDick Hannah Collision Center Director Rick Stoker, left, leads Oregon Museum of Science and Industry design manager Chad Jacobsen, right, and OMSI project manager Denny Andersen on a tour of the collision center to show examples of today’s automobile technology. Students at Washington State University Vancouver, also on the tour, are developing a permanent exhibit on automobile technlogy for the Portland museum with assistance from Dick Hannah Dealerships.

(/The Columbian)

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Digital Dazzle

WSUV students create OMSI exhibit. An occasional series.

Previously: Shifting into high gear.

Today: Touring a collision shop for inspiration.

Rick Stoker led his dozen visitors through rows of deconstructed cars at Dick Hannah Collision Center. As the center’s director, Stoker was eager to tell stories about the inner workings of automobiles. The visitors were from Washington State University Vancouver and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry in Portland. Arriving late for their 10:30 a.m. tour, the visitors first huddled with Stoker and Kent VanArnam, Hannah’s marketing director, in a conference room above the adjoining Chrysler dealership at the Vancouver Auto Mall. There, the WSUV students and staff rolled out digital images of their latest ideas for the exhibit on automobile technology they’re creating for OMSI.

The students’ task on this sun-washed Groundhog Day was to record notes and sketches, and snap smartphone photos of cars that could help them develop an OMSI exhibit tentatively named “Autovation.” Their challenge is to draw on the lessons from a gritty body shop to create a museum work of art that will be supplemented by the “augmented reality” of digital technology. They need to have it done before May, when some of them will graduate.

Stoker stopped in front of one car under repair to pick up an exterior door panel, called a skin, from a black Volkswagen Jetta. He showed no sign of strain. Panels like this one, he says, typically weigh just seven to 10 pounds. “They’re just cosmetic,” he says.

But look at what’s hidden beneath the skin, Stoker says, pointing to the exposed door crowded with door- and window-opening mechanisms and a structural beam to protect passengers in a collision. Some car models have door airbags packed into that space, and more are on the way.

“Some cars now have 10 airbags,” Stoker said as the OMSI exhibit staff members and students scrawled and drew in their notepads.

Each car on Stoker’s hourlong tour revealed another layer of today’s automobile technology. His overarching message: today’s cars are the safest ever created, thanks in large part to their unibody frames, designed to minimize impact to the passenger compartment in a crash.

“Unibody is where it’s at,” he says. “If you’re in a crash, you’re safe.”

OMSI staff want the exhibit to show how advances in automobile technology have improved safety and increased fuel efficiency. They want it to be fun and educational for children and adults. And they want a success story from the museum’s rare collaboration with both a university, WSUV, and a corporate sponsor, Vancouver-based Dick Hannah Dealerships, which is contributing $40,000 for the exhibit. It will be on permanent display, a phrase that in OMSI’s terms means that it could remain in place at least eight years.

Katura Reynolds, an OMSI exhibit developer, laid down the challenge facing students from WSUV’s Creative Media and Digital Culture program during her visit to Hannah. Think about the dinosaur skeleton inside a natural history museum --

a mere skeleton, but an irresistible draw for children and adults, she says in the conference room. Strip the exhibit to the basics: What defines a car?

Later, during the tour, Reynolds worries that the dinosaur skeleton analogy may resonate too much. “I don’t want it to be a dinosaur,” she jokes at one point on the tour. “I just want it to be as fun as a dinosaur.”

The students and their advisors are already fine-tuning concepts for the exhibit, which will compete for attention with other attractions in OMSI’s relatively small Turbine Hall. In a conference room meeting before Stoker’s tour, the WSUV contingent showed an image of a car skeleton with its tail end pointed upward. The story of the car will be displayed on tablet devices, perhaps a combination of two touch tablets with both images and data.

“It will be a visible piece of art when you come in,” says John Barber, an instructor in the Digital Media program.

They’ve come a long way already from the December brainstorm sessions, where the students each offered 10 ideas that were ultimately narrowed to two finalists. A committee with OMSI staff and Dick Hannah Dealership representatives chose the “augmented reality” approach that had been the secret favorite of students and staff.

Now there’s no escaping the true reality of a ticking clock. The project needs to be finished and ready to go by May.

Stoker is on the lookout for a car skeleton that would work for the exhibit. Many cars that come into his shop are too heavily damaged to become a museum piece. A car stripped apart by thieves would be an ideal candidate, he says.

The task for students: come up with a detailed proposal of reality and augmented reality for the project’s review committee. It must be technology, art, and education, all in one.

At tour’s end, the group headed back to campus with an air of confidence. “It seems like we’re on track,” Barber said.

Next: Students pitch their design to OMSI