“I built a custom airboat that’s basically a boat with no prop in the water. Instead, it has a fan above water with a rudder behind it that directs airflow. It tends to slide a bit too much on water but it’s perfect on hard packed snow!” exclaimed sophomore Alex Cheng as his fingers dashed across his laptop’s keyboard in an attempt to bring up his profile on Hackaday.com where he showcases the many electronics projects he’s created such as his custom airboat.
With a practiced, fluid motion, Cheng flipped the laptop around, brushed his hair to the side, said “Here it is” and broke out in a grin from ear to ear as he showed off the project he’s worked on for months.
Cheng has a passion for programming, electronics and mathematics but has also developed a love for music and singing. Cheng’s start in electronics sprung from a natural curiosity, independent spirit and a little bit of Googling which began his self-taught venture in electrical engineering.
“It started with a guy named Benjamin Heckendorn. He runs a show called the Ben Heck show on the Internet,” said
Cheng. “I came across his site where he took an Atari 2600 back in 2001 and said, ‘Hey, most of this is unneeded so I’m going to chop it up, build a case around it and make it portable.’ I wanted to learn how he did that so I googled a little and started to learn electronics.”
Cheng’s interests in electronics and the science behind them naturally led him to programming.
“I look at it as a challenge,” smiled Cheng. “You think about these things in your head then you have to condense them and put it into a computer language. It’s like distilling your thoughts.”
The development of Cheng’s programming and electronic skills have allowed him to experiment and e
xercise his creativity at home. But this year, Cheng has taken his skills into the classroom as he works on his International Space Station (ISS) project.
Cheng’s enthusiasm for electronics and engineering is also shared and incorporated with his love of music.
“I’m a huge fan of making music,” said Cheng. “I play the piano, keyboard and my voice. The keyboard is honestly one of the best things I’ve ever learned how to do because it’s so versatile. What I do is I take an old digital piano we ha
ve, mute the sound on it and hook it up to my laptop instead so I can play tons of virtual synthesizers and record them all together to get some pretty neat tracks.”
Cheng’s love for music also carries into school as he is the only sophomore Madrigal in the school’s highest choir. However, despite Cheng’s love for music, he sees his future in his programming and engineering skills.
“In the future, I’m looking to go into electrical engineering,” stated Cheng. “I can see myself going into engineering to just make the future better. I’m not necessarily the guy who’ll come up with the ideas but I’ll be the guy who’ll make those ideas into reality.”
Cheng takes much of his inspiration from the innovators of our modern age. He enjoys creating and experimenting with the concepts behind engineering to create his own unique projects.
“It took me a long time to build [my airboat] because a lot of the parts are basically plane parts,” said Cheng. “It’s part of the hacker spirit. You take whatever you got lying around, throw it together, and you make a cool project.”