Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Fun board

In Hardware on Jan 17, 2010 at 00:01

Here’s a fun project:


This is an A4-sized foam board with four “indicators”. Each of the colored vane pointers can rotate 90°. The idea is to place a sheet of A4 paper underneath them with some sort of scale, so that you can see 4 status values at a glance. Energy consumption, number of pending emails, whatever.

Here’s the back side:


That’s an old v2 JeeNode with an ATmega168 and 4 cheap micro-servos strapped to it. The extra capacitors reduce the voltage ripple while these servos move, since they seem to generate quite a lot of noise.

The whole thing is held together by zip-lock straps:


The servo axes pass through holes in the bottom, which is in the fact the front plate.

Here is a test sketch to move each of the servos via commands given to the serial port:

Screen shot 2010-01-16 at 10.55.46.png

The basic range for each servo is 45 to 135 degrees, and the h/j/k/l keys control each individual servo, so this lets me position each one with commands such as “45h”, “90j”, “135k”, “75l” etc. There are also commands to move all servos, or to return each one of them to the middle position. These positions are only approximate, each servo will need slightly different values for their end ranges.

It turns out that these servos can’t all be moved at the same time reliably. I’m guessing that they generate too much noise or pull down the 3.3V regulator too far. So all actions involving multiple servos need to be staggered. Another problem is that these low-cost servos sometimes get “stuck” and keep jittering around the target position – this can be prevented by detaching them, since each servo will stay at its last position.

Next step will be to drive these indicators from wireless. I’m going to postpone that for now, because this status display really needs a “switchboard” type application running on the central PC to manage real-time updates.

This thing can’t run off batteries, unfortunately, because the servos draw too much current. I’d be interested to make a display in the future which does run wirelessly – maybe something with solenoids or tiny DC motors.