Michael Watkins 18 began tinkering with technology since he was around 3 years old.
Michael Watkins ’18 began tinkering with technology since he was around 3 years old.
Sam Farrell

    Students creates innovative technology

    Michael Watkins ‘18 has been involved with technology as long as he can remember. “When I was around three years old I started playing with the power outlets around the house,” Watkins said. “But since my parents put the safety protectors on it, I would go out and get a screwdriver so I could take it off of the wall and unlike myself, my parents were more scared than impressed.”

    One aspect of technology that Watkins is experienced with is hacking. “Hacking is a simple skill of giving things input and checking the output,” Watkins said. “You just keep giving it stuff and eventually if you give it the right kind of stuff or even the wrong thing, it’ll come out with something that its not supposed to come out with and you have found vulnerability.”

    Throughout his years, Watkins has also reversed engineered TV’s, built quite a few computers, made lightning using parts from an old TV, turned laptop screens into monitors and set up microwaves to point to point links (microwave internet). “When I was setting up the microwave point to point links I was struggling trying to make it work with so many problems and errors and it ended up there was one wire disconnected after lots and lots of troubleshooting,” Watkins said. “Once I finally fixed the issue I remember feeling this immense feeling of joy because many weeks of frustration paid off.”

    “I remember having this immense feeling of joy because many weeks of frustration paid off.”

    — Michael Watkins

    “Whenever you see something don’t look at it as just an object,” Watkins said. “When I start breaking something down into smaller components I think not what it does but what I could do with it,” Watkins said. This mentality is what led Watkins to reprogram his TI Nspire calculator to have wifi. “When I see a calculator, I don’t just see it as just a calculator, I see it as a small computer with a reprogrammable processor,” Watkins said. “I reprogrammed the calculator through the GPIO (General Purpose Input/Output) on the bottom and can get internet on it now.”

    His original plan, however, was not to get wifi. “It was originally less about getting internet and more about trying to connect to other calculators,” Watkins said. “The calculators could then talk to each other and I could send texts, listen to music, do anything with data really.”

    Watkins is currently doing an internship with American Towers, an industry that works with cyber security. Watkins plans to continue the internship and then plans on going to Iowa State to major in electrical and software engineering. “Even if I don’t get a job in this field, which I probably will, this will continue to be a hobby.” 

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