Samueli Foundation Grant Supports HEYKUBE Outreach Program


April 27, 2022 – Solving the puzzle of a Rubik’s cube’s multiple colored squares has fascinated people for decades. Now, an upgraded version of the puzzle called HEYKUBE is at the center of a new outreach effort led by Quoc-Viet Dang, UC Irvine Samueli School of Engineering assistant professor of teaching of electrical engineering and computer science.

Made by a company called 22nd Solutions, HEYKUBE is engineered with a built-in microprocessor, accelerometer, Bluetooth, sound, sensors, low power and gadget connectivity. Using a basic seven-step solving algorithm and flashing lights, the smart cube helps users learn to solve the puzzle. In addition, the HEYKUBE is programmable. Users can control the lights, sounds and algorithms with a Raspberry Pi and the HEYKUBE Python library.

HEYKUBE disassembled

“HEYKUBE is a perfect example of a project-based learning tool that teaches all aspects of engineering (mechanical, electrical and computer science),” Dang explained. A tool that’s also a toy makes it ideal for outreach as well.

With a $50,000 two-year grant from the Henry Samueli Foundation, Dang is developing a pilot engineering outreach program for middle school and high school students with HEYKUBE at the center of a series of lectures, experiments and guided activities.

A kick-off meeting, hosted by 22nd Solutions, was held recently to celebrate the collaboration with UCI. Over the past couple of months, the co-inventors of the smart cube, David Garrett and Mehdi Hatamian, have been providing UCI engineering students with an overview and training on the primary features of the smart cube. They hope to impact middle and high school students interested in STEAM education with hundreds of free parts and cubes over the next couple of years.

At the HEYKUBE project kick-off event, from left to right, are: UCI undergraduate researchers Akshay Kshipra, Naveen Dorairaj and Isaiah Enriquez; Mehdi Hatamian (22nd Solutions), Leyla Riley (UCI), David Garrett (22nd Solutions), and Quoc-Viet Dang (UCI).

“22nd Solutions was looking to expand their existing outreach efforts to middle schoolers and local Girl Scout groups while I was looking for new opportunities for my undergraduate students to apply what they’ve been learning in class and inspire more students to join STEAM,” said Dang. “Over the course of several meetings, virtually and in person, we laid down the foundational work for our upcoming curriculum – covering everything from learning about simple circuits to connecting and reprogramming components with Python through Bluetooth – using the HEYKUBE as the centerpiece.”

Dang said there’s a fascination and natural engineering process with solving Rubik’s cubes, then learning to solve them faster than your friend, and eventually trying to show other people how to solve it. The initial draw of the HEYKUBE is that it will guide players how to solve the cube through a series of lights and sounds on each cube face. From there, players start learning and playing more complicated games. “The engineering ‘wow factor’ is that anyone can connect to the HEYKUBE through Bluetooth and program their own features and functionality into the device,” explained Dang. “This last step may be a bit daunting for those without an engineering or computer science background; this is where our curriculum development comes in – we plan to build and run this curriculum for local schools and groups over the next couple of years. The majority of the development will also be open-source and open-access, allowing other schools and educators to utilize the curriculum all over the world.”

HEYKUBE Project Overview

“One of the most exciting things students will be able to do is to play and experiment with working prototype parts that are based on the actual prototypes the engineers who worked on the HEYKUBE project developed,” he continued. “Our undergraduate researchers are developing case studies to help middle, high school and even community college students see more in-depth possibilities of programming the HEYKUBE.”

Dang will collaborate with Leyla Riley, director of Academic Innovation Partnerships, and her team to include the HEYKUBE in summer outreach programs at the school of engineering.

“Everyone we’ve talked with about this project is excited to see what we can do with these smart Rubik’s cubes,” he said.

– Tonya Becerra