Reaction time challenge


We’re not sure where [Bill Porter] finds all of his free time, but we’re glad he’s put it to such good use by building an exhibit piece for the local science museum: Reaction Time Challenge. It’s likely that we were all inspired to love science as kids in a museum like this, and [Bill's] contribution is already fascinating its young audience. The challenge lets two participants test how fast they can smack a big red button after a randomly-generated countdown. The time taken for the players to react is translated into the RGB LED strips, measuring how fast they managed to hit the button.

Builds like this one need to clearly communicate how they should be used; you don’t want confused children bamming around on your cabinet. First, [Bill] guts the dim LEDs inside the big plastic buttons and replaces them with some brighter ones. To keep the connections clean, he takes the cannibalized ends of an Ethernet cable and hooks the speaker and buttons to an Ethernet jack. The jack sits snugly in a project box where it connects to an Arduino. Two RGB LED strips run from the opposite end of the box, daisy-chaining from the bottom of the cabinet to the top, then back down again. See it all come together in the video after the break.

[Bill's] museum must be pretty lucky; he resurrected the “Freeze Frame” exhibit for them just over a year ago and has done a bunch of other projects for them over the years.

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Building a giant Game of Life spinner

We see a lot of projects related to Conway’s Game of Life, but this one is Hasbro’s Game of Life. The board game company recently commissioned a giant game spinner as part of a museum exhibit. Here’s the build log that shows how it was pulled off.

The first thing to note is that [Jzzsxm] does this for a living. His company was hired to build several exhibits related to board games for a children’s museum in Springfield, MA. But don’t let that stop you from offering to help at your own local museum. We know some hackers love doing that kind of work.

The scale of the project is what makes the build really interesting. It starts with a design which can be cut out with a CNC router. First the spinner frame and numbers are cut out of MDF to verify the code. From there the design is cut in two pieces out of HI-MACS, a durable solid-surface material. Pegs for spinning the dial are milled from more HI-MACS stock. The clicker mechanism uses a steel rod as a pivot point. On the underside of the table it has opposing springs to hold it in place no matter which way the thing is spun. [Jzzsxm] mentions that it sees a lot of abuse from the young patrons, but seems to be holding up just great!

[via Reddit]

Adding sound to Children’s Museum exhibits

Believe it or not, the local Children’s Museum staff was happy that [Bill Porter] left this mess of wires and equipment in one of their offices. It makes up an ambient sound system for a couple of their exhibits. A movie without sound just doesn’t fully entertain, and the same can be said for these exhibits. The ambient sound that goes with a boat room, and a hospital room in the Museum really helps to snag your attention. And [Bill's] material cost came in at just over $200 for both rooms.

He started off by purchasing a speaker, amp, and MP3 breakout board (SparkFun). The speaker mounts in one of the ceiling tiles, with the wire running to a different room where the audio equipment is housed. There were a couple of problems with this; the museum staff forgot to turn on the system, and for all of its expense this only provided one room with audio. Bill figured that since only one speaker was being used he could make an audio file with a different clip on the left and right channel, then feed them to different rooms. He also added that programmable timer so the sounds will turn themselves on and off.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen hacks end up as museum pieces. Check out this other project that rigs up some interactive telephones.