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WATCH: Researchers Point to the Future at Imagine RIT

The RIT Theme Park Enthusiasts Club created jungle-themed amusement park rides using K'nex.
The RIT Theme Park Enthusiasts Club created jungle-themed amusement park rides using K'nex.

David Swerzenski couldn't even read the first time his family brought him to the State Fair, but he was already doing his research. The fun outing quickly became exhausting for the adults, as the then-toddler asked a barrage of questions about the rides and how they actually worked. Little did David know he would one day get the opportunity to put his inquisitive nature to good use. 

The Rochester Institute of Technology student is wrapping up his fourth year in the mechanical engineering program. His latest project, building roller coasters, is one he had always dreamed of. This Saturday, Swerzenski and other students will showcase their work to the public at the ninth annual Imagine RIT Festival.

“That’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was like 20 months old,” says Swerzenski.

He’s part of a group of 17 students from various academic disciplines who call themselves the RIT Theme Park Enthusiasts Club. Over the last four months, members have gathered at the College of Engineering to create an interactive, jungle-themed amusement park using onlyK’nex, a construction toy. Swerzenski says he anticipates that festival-goers will enjoy a more authentic experience than their first effort.

“Last year it was about 20 rides, and this year it’s going to be 34, with five roller coasters,” Swerzenski says. “The big roller coaster that’s going up is going to be about 22 feet long and is going to have two launches.”

The brightly colored coaster making its debut at the upcoming festival was built by third-year student, Robert Cybulski. He also is credited for conducting research that helped the team get started. 

RIT student, Robert Cybulski, shows off his K'nex creation: a 22-foot-long roller coaster.
RIT student, Robert Cybulski, shows off his K'nex creation: a 22-foot-long roller coaster.

“Robert did a bunch of calculations about what kind of motor to use and what kind of parts to order. We put it together and it’s a lot of prototyping, a lot of testing,” says Swerzenski.

Annual event

Organizers say they expect more than 35, 000 people of all ages to attend the free festival on May 7th, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitors can experience the many intricate innovations of RIT through interactive presentations, hands-on demonstrations and exhibits set up throughout the campus in Henrietta, New York.

“We want people in our community and beyond to see the diversity of programs and opportunities, and how RIT can respond quickly to the needs in business and industries,” says Barry Culhane, Imagine RIT chair.

At 9 a.m., an hour before the event officially begins, some students will be competing to win “Dr. Destler’s Challenge,” a competition put forth by RIT president Bill Destler. This year, the theme of the contest is access and inclusion. RIT engineering students have spent a great deal of time creating technology to help people – from aging seniors, to people who are deaf, blind, or individuals with other physical challenges.

Entries will be evaluated based on a set of criteria, with a grand prize of $1,000. But according to Culhane, there won’t be any losers.

“They get a win-win, because this is something they love. It’s part of who they are.”

Environmentally friendly

On the other side of campus, inside the Golisano Institute for Sustainability, what looks like a giant video game is also being tweaked for Imagine RIT.

It’s a truck simulator, which the team says is now more interactive and meant to teach people about their eco-driving behaviors: the amount of emissions they generate as they operate the vehicle and to practice better fuel efficiency as they drive their routes.

The truck simulator has three components:

·         A huge plasma screen.

·         Three computer processors that do things like generate the virtual environment that you see as you drive through the neighborhood.

·         And a rumble chair to give the feel of a real, bumpy truck ride. 

Research assistant, Briana Amoroso, tests out an eco-friendly truck driving simulator.
Research assistant, Briana Amoroso, tests out an eco-friendly truck driving simulator.

“We can collect all of your acceleration per second, all of your deceleration per second and map it into an emissions map,” says Roger Chen, an assistant professor. “Rather than have all these trucks in the field retrofitted with the data collection tools, we can test out some of the ideas here in the simulator before we invest further money in trying this out in the field.”

Chen, along with a handful of research assistants from the school's Industrial and Systems Engineering department, says their study over the last two years focuses primarily on developing the tools needed to provide drivers with feedback. They also look at the simulator as an experimental project to test other possible technology, like vehicle automation, before researchers develop the prototype. Either way Chen says the simulator will help save time and money.

“It’s a stepping stone and gives us a cost-effective way of addressing some of the new technology that people are envisioning."

For more details on Imagine RIT including parking information, go to       

Sasha-Ann Simons joined the team at WXXI News in 2015 as a Multimedia Reporter/Producer. She tells stories about the innovation economy and technology in upstate New York and also does general assignment reporting. Sasha-Ann is the host of Arts InFocus, WXXI-TV's weekly arts and culture program. She is also a fill-in host and regular contributor to Need To Know.