Building ‘Ellie’ Gives Teacher’s Students Tech Insight

ellie computer

ELLIE’S CREATOR SHARED THE BUILDING PROCESS WITH HUNDREDS OF STUDENTS


Alex Kleinschmidt started with some spare parts, a digital 3D model, and a dream to create his own scratch-built computer.

Ellie

Students use Ellie in the classroom.

The result is Ellie, a small but powerful gaming computer that students can use for video editing, special effects and other movie magic. The McKinney resident works for the Arts & Technology Institute in Frisco, which contracts with several private Montessori schools to help with technology curriculum.

During the 11-month process, the teacher shared the building process with hundreds of students.

“I bring that in when we’re doing more complex projects,” Kleinschmidt said. “They all relate back to it. I thought it was a great way to integrate it with the class. I designed the whole thing on the computer.”

“I’ve always liked building things myself.” – Alex Kleinschmidt

He documented the building process on his YouTube channel. He used a 3D printer to build the case and other components for the computer, a big reason why it took so long to perfect. Just one component took 16 hours to print.

In all, the computer cost around $2,300 to make, though he jokes it could have cost less than half that if he didn’t do all the cool bells and whistles. Regardless, Ellie does laps around the standard school-issued computers.

Ellie

Ellie the computer is used to teach students.

“I had to fund it on my teacher’s salary,” he said. “I’ve always liked building things myself.”

Ellie uses a high-definition monitor from a Raspberry Pi device that he plugged directly into the graphics card and power supply. It took several adapters to make that work, which he had to cram in there.

ELLIE HAS A KEYBOARD THAT LIGHTS UP

He bought an LED keyboard that lights up different colors as you type. That gave him the idea to deck the whole computer out with LED lights. His students love it, he said.

Kleinschmidt laughed and got excited when asked to explain the origin of the computer’s name. No one else has asked him.

The computer uses an Intel chip called Haswell, named after a small town in Colorado. Just outside Haswell there’s the Paul Plishner Radio Astronomy and Space Sciences Center, where researchers use a 60-foot parabolic dish to listen for frequencies from deep space.

That instantly reminded Kleinschmidt of the 1997 film Contact, where Jodie Foster plays Eleanor Arroway, or Ellie, an astronomer searching for extraterrestrial life.

And the name was born.

The Arts & Technology Institute will be consolidating after this school year, prompting Kleinschmidt to look for work elsewhere.

He’s hoping to get back to animating video games. There’s a large market for making independent video games in North Texas.


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