Denver Mini Maker Faire: Fun With Pinball

[Mark Gibson] probably has nothing against silicon. He just knows that a lot that can be done with simple switches, relays, and solenoids and wants to share that knowledge with the world. This was made abundantly clear to me during repeat visits to his expansive booth at Denver Mini Maker Faire last weekend.

In the sunlight-filled atrium of the Museum of Nature and Science, [Mark] sat behind several long tables covered with his creations made from mid-century pinball machines. There are about two dozen pieces in his interactive exhibit, which made its debut at the first-ever Northern Colorado Maker Faire in 2013. [Mark] was motivated to build these boards because he wanted to get people interested in the way things work through interaction and discovery of pinball mechanisms.

fun with pinball thumbMost of the pieces he has built are single units and simple systems from pinball machines—flippers, chime units, targets, bumpers, and so on—that he affixed to wooden boards so that people can explore them without breaking anything. All of the units are operated using large and inviting push buttons that have been screwed down tight. Each of the systems also has a display card with an engineering drawing of the mechanism and a short explanation of how it works.

[Mark] also brought some of the original games he has created by combining several systems from different machines, like a horse derby and a baseball game. Both of these were built with education in mind; all of the guts including the original fabric-wrapped wires are prominently displayed. The derby game wasn’t working, but I managed to load the bases and get a grand slam in the baseball game. Probably couldn’t do that again in a million summers.

fun with pinball baseball game
Take me out to the Maker Faire! Click to embiggen.

About five years ago, we covered [Mark]’s build of an atomic clock from pinball machine parts. It’s about time we featured his work again. We have shared a lot of pinball-related builds over the years from the immersive to the gigantic to the dankest of the dank.

Scratch-built Radial Solenoid Engine is Polished and Professional

There’s something alluring about radial engines. The Wasps, the Cyclones, the Gnomes – the mechanical beauty of those classic aircraft engines can’t be denied. And even when a radial engine is powered by solenoids rather than internal combustion, it can still be a thing of beauty.

The solenoid engine proves that he has some mechanical chops. If you follow along in the videos below, you’ll see how [Tyler] progressed in his design and incorporated what he learned from the earliest breadboard stage to the nearly-complete engine. There’s an impressive amount of work here – looks like the octagonal housing was bent on a press brake, and the apparently homebrew solenoids are enclosed in copper pipe and fittings that [Tyler] took the time to bring to a fine polish. We’re skeptical that the microswitches that electrically commutate the engine will hold up to as many cycles are they’d need to handle for this to be a useful engine, but that’s hardly the point here. This one is all about the learning, and we think [Tyler] has done a bang-up job with that.

For more radial solenoid engine goodness, check out this engine with an entirely different take on commutation. Or if you need the basics of radial engine theory, this wood mockup might be just the thing.

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X-Ray Everything!

We’re not 100% sure why this is being done, but we’re 110% happy that it is. Someone (under the name of [The X-Ray Playground]) is putting interesting devices under an X-ray camera and posting videos of them up on YouTube. And he or she seems to be adding a few new videos per day.

Want to see the inner workings of a pneumatic microswitch? Or is a running pair of servo motors more your speed? Now you know where to look. After watching the servo video, we couldn’t help but wish that a bunch of the previous videos were also taken while the devices were being activated. The ball bearing wouldn’t gain much from that treatment, but the miniature piston certainly would. [X-Ray Playground], if you’re out there, more working demos, please!

How long the pace of new videos can last is anyone’s guess, but we’re content to enjoy the ride. And it’s just cool to see stuff in X-ray. If we had a postal address, we know we’d ship some stuff over to be put under the lens.

We don’t have as many X-ray hacks as you’d expect, which is probably OK given the radioactivity and all. But we have seen [MikesElectricStuff] taking apart a baggage-scanner X-ray machine in exquisite detail, and a DIY fluoroscope (yikes!), so we’re not strangers. Who needs Superman? We all have X-ray vision these days.

Thanks [OiD] for the tip!

Automatic Pneumatic Harmonica

A wise man once said “If all you’ve got is a cute desktop compressor and some solenoid valves, everything looks like a robotic harmonica.” Or maybe we’re paraphrasing. Regardless, [Fabien-Chouteau] built a pneumatic, automatic harmonica music machine.

It’s actually an offshoot of his other project, a high-speed candy sorting machine. There, he’s trying to outdo the more common color-sensor-and-servo style contraptions by using computer vision for the color detection and a number of compressed-air jets to blow the candy off of a conveyor belt into the proper bins.

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Avoid Procrastination with this Phone Lock Box

Smart phones are great. So great that you may find yourself distracted from working, eating, conversing with other human beings in person, or even sleeping. [Digitaljunky] has this problem (not surprising, really, considering his name) so he built an anti-procrastination box. The box is big enough to hold a smart phone and has an Arduino-based time lock.

The real trick is making the box so that the Arduino can lock and unlock it with a solenoid. [Digitaljunky] doesn’t have a 3D printer, so he used Fimo clay to mold a custom latch piece. A digital display, a FET to drive the solenoid, and a handful of common components round out the design.

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Electronic float valve keeps the horse’s feet dry

[Bob] built this simple device that can best be described as an electronic float valve. He was wasting a lot of water from overflowing water troughs and buckets around his farm. He would usually put the hose in the container, turn on the water valve and carry on with his work. By the time he remembered to come back, the area would be flooded. It’s obvious that there’s many different ways to solve a problem. For example, a simple mechanical float valve might have worked, but it’s not horse friendly and liable to get damaged soon.

The electronics is unabashedly minimal. An ATtiny85 controls a relay via a common variety NPN transistor. The relay in turn switches the solenoid valve. A push-button tells the microcontroller to start the water flowing, and when the water level gets high enough that it touches two hose clamps, the micro shuts it off again.

There’s some ghetto engineering going on here. The electronics is driven by a 9V battery, although the relay and the solenoid valve that [Bob] used are both rated for 12V. He’s not even using any sort of voltage regulation for the ATtiny, but instead dropping the voltage with a resistor divider. (We wonder about battery life in the long run.)

He built all of it on perf board and stuffed it inside a small enclosure, with two wires coming out for the level sensor and another two for the solenoid, and it seems to work. Check the video below where [Bob] walks through his build.

While some may point out the many short comings in this build, [Bob] found the one solution that works for him. Sometimes the right solution is what you’ve got on hand, and we’re glad he’s hacking away and sharing his work. And check out this wireless water level sensor that he built some time back.

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Robot Clock Writes Time Over and Over and Over

We’ve seen quite a few clocks that write the time out with a pen or marker. If you think about it, this really isn’t a great solution; every whiteboard marker will dry out in a day or two, and even if you’re using a pen, that’s still eventually going to run out of ink.

[ekaggrat] wanted a drawing clock that didn’t have these problems, and after taking a look at a magnetic drawing board, was struck with inspiration. The result is a clock that will perpetually write the time. It’s a revision of one of his earlier builds and looks to be much more reliable and mechanically precise.

A clock that writes time needs some sort of surface that won’t degrade, but can be written to over and over again. Whiteboards and glass won’t work, and neither will anything with ink. The solution to this problem was found in a ‘magnetic writing board’ or a Magna Doodle. These magnetic writing boards have a series of cells encapsulating iron filings. Pass a magnet over one side of the board, and a dot of filings appear. Pass a magnet over the opposite side of the board, and the filings disappear.

[ekaggrat]’s time-writing robot consists of a small Magna Doodle display, a robotic arm controlled by two stepper motors, and two solenoids on the end of the arm. The kinematics come from a helpful chap on the RepRap forums, and with the ATmega644 and two stepper drivers, this clock can write the time by altering the current flowing through two solenoids.

A video is the best way to experience this project, and you can check that out below.

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