Touch, lights, art and music
Sussex graduateís UW-Stout project draws national attention


June 28, 2008

Derek Olson, a native of Sussex and a student at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, has written a computer program that combines music and art, and which is turning heads in the tech industry.

SUSSEX - Derek Olsonís capstone project at the University of Wisconsin-Stout has accomplished more than capping off his college career. The "Transient Multi Touch Interface" he designed has gained him recognition at national student competitions and even an internship.

Olson, 22, graduated in 2004 from Hamilton High School and is a senior art student at UW-Stout with a concentration in multimedia design.

"Itís focused on solving problems creatively," Olson said.

By focusing on many disciplines such as graphic design, Web design, audio and video as well as interactive technologies, Olson created his project: a multi-media work that incorporates computer technology and programming, art and music.

"Iíve always had a major interest in music," Olson said. "I play piano, guitar and sax. I was interested to have that passion mix with what I was doing in school."




Olsonís project involves a large, flat screen set up like a table with the ability for multiple users to touch the screen and cause a response with music, lights and graphics.

While some people might be familiar with "smart board" technology, which allows users to directly interface on the screen, the difference in his project, Olson said, is that multiple people can interface at the same time.

"I wanted to do something creative that anybody could use," Olson said.

The project earned second place in the Association for Computer Machinery Special Interest Group on Graphics "Space Time Interactive Competition," and Olson will travel to Los Angeles in August to attend the organizationís conference and exhibit his work.

The event, Olson said, will be attended by some of the biggest names in multi-media technology, such as LucasArts and Pixar.

The project also earned an honorable mention in the Adobe Design Achievement Award competition.

Creating the project required a multi-disciplinary approach, which Olson said fits well with his background.

An art major who participated in First Robotics while in high school, Olson used both skill sets for the project, which he describes as an interactive sculpture. He sees applications, however, for education and entertainment as the project continues to develop.

"Right now, itís interactive art," he said.

The cumulative project helped Olson get the attention of Mode, a motion design production studio based in Chicago, where heíll begin an internship next week.

Olson said he hopes to continue focusing on human and computer interactivity and animation when he begins his post-college career this fall.

A video of Olsonís project can be viewed at

This story appeared in The Freeman on June 28, 2008.