Engineers On a Roll Exhibit Upgrade

Kyle McLellan (Product Development Engineer)


IMG_2631 blogDisher recently had the opportunity to redesign an exhibit for the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum. Located only five miles from the Disher Ann Arbor office, it was the perfect community outreach service project for our team. This children’s museum offers kids of all ages the opportunity to learn about science and engineering through a series of interactive exhibits. As you can imagine, kids can be pretty hard on the exhibits, so they have a tendency to wear out and break down quite quickly.

One exhibit in the museum is a Kinetic Ball display. Playpen balls get lifted up into the air via a conveyor belt, and then roll around a track back down to the ground.  To create more interest, there are “kickers” stationed throughout the display. The kickers watch for balls to roll by, then randomly kick one ball off the track into a hopper, where it will then roll down a different track.

The kickers were originally made by using a ball return out of an indoor putting practice kit, coupled with an Arduino through a series of AC/DC relays.  The kicker was placed on a bent sheet metal bracket cantilevered off the track.The museum was struggling with it from a reliability standpoint and were looking for a more robust solution.  They also weren’t thrilled that the design utilized AC power to run the kickers, which meant that 120V wires were running up and down the exhibit (guarded as much as possible, but still posing a greater risk than the museum was happy with).  That’s where Disher came in to help!

IMG_20150814_145747 blogThrough our work on this project, the entire system (bracket, kicker, ball sensor, control system, and power distribution method) was redesigned and donated to the museum.  We took the old bracket / kicker system and created a more robust, safer, and more integrated solution to better meet their needs. After brainstorming a few options of new bracket styles and kickers, we “kicked” the design off to one of our team’s industrial designers for some extra flair.

IMG_2636 blogHere’s what we came up with: the new brackets are entirely self-contained, using 12V DC to help Mr. Roboto come to life. The PCB secured to the side was designed to monitor the number of balls that have rolled past the sensor, triggering the robot to kick the next ball after a certain number have rolled by.

This stewardship project allowed the Ann Arbor team to rework the way the ball exhibit was orchestrated, while implementing a safer display. This, in turn, is helping the Hands-On Museum to continue to provide a fun experience for kids’ and families alike. Oh, and working on a colorful display involving robomen and playpen balls? A little fun for us, too.

Written By: Kyle McLellan – Product Development Engineer | Kyle is an electronics engineer with experience in analog and digital circuit design, embedded firmware development, and EMC testing. At Disher, he designs light engines, all types of sensors, and more. Outside of Disher, he is an avid runner and closet clock maker.

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