Engineering grad’s clever electronic cap decoration almost caused a bomb scare

Posted at 4:16 PM, Jul 31, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-31 16:16:42-04

A computer engineering graduate got his diploma and one heck of a story because the DIY electronic decoration on his graduation cap looked a bit like a bomb.

Can Cevik told CNN that police stopped him on Monday evening at a security entrance as he was walking into Florida International University’s graduation ceremony.

They were suspicious of the gadget, which had a flashing, digital display that was connected to a 9-volt battery and electronic boards with red, black, yellow and green wires.

“They said ‘hold on, we need to see what that is on your head,'” and told him to put the cap on the floor and step away, Cevik said. Then they had him empty his pockets and briefly took his cell phone.

“They were just basically trying to figure out what sort of a threat this could be, is it a bomb, that sort of thing,” he said.

Cevik explained to the officers that he made the device with an Arduino Uno, a palm-sized computer micro-controller that can be used in all sorts of electronics projects.

He had programmed it to make the display say “FIU 2019.”

“Initially, I did feel nervous, because I honestly was not expecting this. I probably should have, given the state of the socio-political climate with all these dangerous shootings and everything, which unfortunately does happen,” he said. “To me it was fair for them to assume the worst.”

Cevik said that he made the decoration last month for fun from about $20 worth of parts he’d bought from Amazon.

“I just threw it all together and then I sort of forgot about it until the day of graduation and then I taped it on my graduation cap and went to graduation,” he said.

The officers were very calm, he said, and it took them about 10 or 15 minutes to decide that he wasn’t a threat.

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“You have to err on the side of caution,” FIU Police Capt. Delrish Moss told CNN.

The incident didn’t delay the graduation and Cevik got to graduate with his classmates, but he was a few minutes late and missed the singing of the alma mater and national anthem.

Cevik got his hat back, but Moss said bomb technicians took apart the Arduino device as a precaution. “I don’t really care that much because it wasn’t that expensive and that’s their job to make sure the community’s safe and that sort of thing,” Cevik said.

Moss said officers were concerned that someone in the crowd might be scared if they saw it from a distance.

After the ceremony, Cevik posed for a photo with the officer who stopped him.

“She was definitely cool about the whole situation, that’s for sure,” he said.

Cevik said he’s now trying to find a job as a software developer in South Florida.

“I’m on my job search right now, so that’s what I’m focused on,” he said.

Moss said it is the first time he’s aware of something like this happening.

“It’s not that big of a surprise because the students are so doggone talented with what they’re able to do,” he said.