T minus 6

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve published my last update, but that’s not for lack of progress. My robot is now finished, and I’ll be presenting it to the class and to the public in just six short hours. All of the projects Interactive Exhibit Design students have been working on this semester will be showcased at a “mini-expo.” This is open to the public, and will take place in Lawson Hall 2270C from 4:30 to 5:45pm. At this point there is no more work I can do to improve the bot before I introduce it to the world. Until then, I’m taking this opportunity to reflect on what has been accomplished over the course of HIS 9832: Interactive Exhibit Design.

This course has definitely stretched the limits of what I consider to be possible. If you had told me in January that I would be presenting a fully interactive robotic exhibit to the public today, I would have laughed. I suppose I should know better. Stretching limits seems to have been a theme for this entire year.

There are a few aspects of the exhibit that I am particularly proud of. A coat of paint made a huge difference on the cardboard kiosk I made to control the robot. I finally got the audio to work, so the descriptions for each city can be either looked at or listened to. This makes it possible for the exhibit to be used by people who are blind or deaf, so I’m happy about that.

That being said, not everything with the exhibit turned out as I had first envisioned it. It turns out that adding additional stepper motors was too ambitious for the time I had left, so the robot is still imprecise when it comes to the edges of the map. And my magnet for the front took a magical journey down a sewer grate last week. I bought another magnet to replace it – but I wasn’t able to find the exact same kind of magnet, so the ship moves a bit differently now. There were other times when the program would unexpectedly stop working. However, it was in these times of frustration that I learned the most, because this is where I had the opportunity to come up with creative solutions to the problems.

Some problems persisted right to the very end. A bobbin almost detached from one of the stepper motors last night as I was testing the bot, spontaneously sending string where it was not supposed to go. That wasn’t really a learning moment, that was just stressful! Thankfully I figured out what the problem was and corrected everything. It seems to be working properly now. I’m hoping for no glitches or hiccups during the public presentation tonight, although of course something unexpected is bound to happen.

There was no shortage of ideas for the robot after I began working on it. In the future, if I have the opportunity to create a new version of this exhibit, there are several features I would consider adding, including: Portuguese and French language options; options for learning more about each city if that is desired (which also makes the exhibit less repetitive); more precision of the robot’s movements towards the edges of the map; and a better pair of magnets to improve smoothness and accuracy of motion. It would also be really cool to have LEDs in the map that light up your choices of cities to move to…the more I think about it, the more ideas I get.

My last post of the course will be published after I’ve had the opportunity to show the bot to the class. At that point I’ll tell you more about how exactly the robot worked and how people reacted – including video footage of the presentation. If you can make it to Western to check out our work, great – but if not, stay tuned for all the juicy details…


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