Automata Workbench - What's on the top?

We've been keeping experimenting with the Automata Workbench exhibit in the Tinkering Studio. These are previous blog posts Ryan wrote:
Automata Workbench Prototyping (8/21/2014)
Making an Automata Workbench Pt. 2 (9/25/2014)

Since we would like the automata workbench to be more like a standalone exhibit (means the exhibit works when unfacilitated), figuring out how to communicate visitors what they can do at this exhibit has been one of the big challenges. While we would like visitors to fully experiment with motions and mechanisms by testing out different cams/cam followers, we are kind of hesitant to be super instructional (such as providing step-by-step instructions) on the signage and graphics. So we are trying to come up with non-singage clues that somehow communicate visitors what the all these loose parts and materials on the table are meant for.

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For example, we've observed these things happen often : Visitors sometimes do not know what goes on the top...

So we've made three-dimensional figures so that they would communicate more clearly that these figures are meant to be on the top. We also talked about what kind of figures we should put there: a waving hand and a boat are good candidates since they could easily associate with certain kind of motion.

(If you see the cams on the table, they are all flat with a square hole, so the three dimensional figures look clearly different from these parts.)

We also wanted to see what happens if we put bright colors on the figures so they would look more like a toy and stand out clearly from other woodsy looking loose parts. Michael, our volunteer, worked on this right away and he made a few sketches.

And the sketch turned into this bird! Nice! The spring and the loose wings allow the bird more motion when it goes ups and downs.

IMG 3892 from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

We've also made a ballerina with a bendable leg. We thought ballerina would be also a good candidate for the figure, as it certainly associates with spinning motion.

With these three dimensional figures, I think, now we see less confusion in the visitors what goes on the top and what goes underneath.

IMG 3949 from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

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While I'm writing this blog, I'm again going back to this photo on the left, as this photo makes me think that it might be better if the horizontal axle and vertical axle had different diameters so that each axle could not be used in the other way... (right now, both axles are 1/4" diameter although one is a square rod and the other is cylinder rod. hard to notice the difference unless you pay close attention to them.) Like in the rough sketch, if the horizontal axle was a lot thicker, would it not be used for vertical, and also make it easier to put though the cams hole and set in the box??? Just an idea.

The other thing we should definitely work on is to make those figures robust enough so they will hold up long time on the floor...
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Sad to see they got broken within a few days... Our experiment is still on going and we have more ideas that we would like to try.


Prototyping marble machine elements and mechanisms

Continuing from the last post:
We have been working on prototyping interesting marble machine elements and mechanisms so that we could install them on the lower wall in the marble machine area (we don't know how yet, but it doesn't matter).

Today, Audrey from Instructables brought her working prototype "spinning-plinko" and showed us how it works! Check this out:

IMG 3961 from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

The rotation goes so smooth!

I've learned that the secret ingredient is a nylon spacer in the back of the spinning board. It reduces the friction and makes the spinning easy.

Nicole has been working on counterweight mechanism, and she made a few wooden cups to catch and drop a marble ball. Check the video!

IMG 3936 from The Tinkering Studio on Vimeo.

The counterweight works beautifully. Love to see how the cup slowly drops the marble and gets up on its own. The wood sound is also nice!

Yes, our hole saw bells are back! It would be also a nice addition to the marble machine.

Sometime, a simple routered marble path might be also attractive for little kids.

We will continue prototyping interesting mechanisms/elements for a while and decide which mechanisms would be good candidates to inspire people (including little kids) in the marble machine area. Everything is experiment at this point!


Experimenting with the marble machines space design

Experimenting and iterating with the space design is one of the things we'd like to keep trying constantly. Last week, we have started to make some changes in the Marble Machines area. We had observed many issues in the marble machine area since our opening and had been tweaking a little bit, but never made a major environmental change in the space. One of the big issues is that the space gets messy and congested easily, and sometimes it could communicate chaos and mess and send unwelcoming message to visitors.

To tackle the issue, we started off by taking down the wing that was overhanging from the wall to make more physical space. Then, we decided to dismantle the bench too, to make the space less crowded, but also hoping that we could utilize the low wall for some inspiring/interacting use for little kids rather than parent's resting area.

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Nicole removing the bench, Audrey, our volunteer from Instructables, working on cardboard to cover the wall.

Now the space looks a lot more spacious! We've covered the bottom of the wall with cardboard to see what would happen if we raise the bottom of the wall. The motivation behind that is to use the big wall for older kids and the lower wall, which is across from the big wall, for younger kids.

Since we can't install pegboards on the lower wall right away (it's a curving wall), we have put a few smaller boards (2x4') in front of the lower wall to see how people use those individual size boards. So far, we've observed that people use those individual boards a lot (sometime, we see people working only on individual boards and no one on the big wall).

Young kids, older kids, adults, I see people with all ages work on the individual boards.

One day, we've left a super long tube in the area, and we saw young kids are connecting the big wall and individual board with the tube...

One thing we've noticed is that covering the bottom of the wall might be actually encouraging little kids to stand on the step stools or on chair to reach to the wall. This might be less happening if we install something for little kids on the lower wall opposite.

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Another thing is that whether or not there is a bench, the lower wall seems to provide a good spot for parents to wait/rest and keep an eye on their kids. Maybe we could install the bench for parents behind the wall?? Our plan at this point about the lower wall is to think about some interesting use, either to turn the lower wall into something for little kids or turn it into inspiring interactive marble machine walls.

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We are also thinking to do something with this big opening at the back of the area (in the left photo). Since we removed the overhang, the space feels too open and feels like we need some interesting/meaningful way to interrupt the view to the main busy corridor so that the space feels a little more warm and cozy. Another thing (not so prioritized but would like to think about at some point) is to somehow utilize this square window for people's marble machine building.

And, of course, the most challenging issue has been to figure out a good way to organize the materials. Our current material cart gets empty in the first one hour and the materials are scattered all over on the floor... We don't know a good solution for that yet.

It might take a long time to iterate and redesign the space, but we are so excited to work on the project. While we keep observing the space, we are working on prototyping some interesting marble machine elements and mechanisms so we could install them somehow on the lower wall. In the next post, I will post a few prototypes that we've built so far!


99% Invisible - Pinball Podcast

A few of us in the Tinkering Studio are big fans of the podcast 99% Invisible, a show that dissects hidden aspects of design that surrounds us in everyday life. In one of the most recent episodes, Roman and the crew delve into the fascinating and sometimes seedy world of pinball machines over the last hundred years in recognition of their recent legalization in the city of Oakland.

99% Invisible - Episode 135: For Amusement Only

One of the prominent guests on the show was tinkering studio artist-in-residence Micheal Scheiss who's Surf Champ visible pinball machine has been a highlight of the south gallery since our move to Pier 15. It was really cool to hear him on the podcast and learn more about the history of these amazing machines. And if you want more pinball goodness be sure to visit Micheal's Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda.

Visible Pinball


Cool videos about superconductivity and shape memory wire

Happy to announce that EUPHRATES (the artist group who did Pythagora Switch chain reaction video in Japan) is visiting Tinkering Studio next summer for two weeks through our artist-in-residence program! In preparation for welcoming their residence here, I wanted to share some more of their work so that we would be a little more familiar with their work before they come.

Here are some videos that they sent us a while ago. They made these short films in collaboration with researchers from the National Institute for Material Science (NIMS) in Japan, and at that time it didn't have English subtitles... but now the videos got English subtitles so that people outside of Japan would enjoy them!

The first one is about superconductivity, and the second one is about shape memory wire. They are both great, not so instructional (I'm saying that as a compliment;-) but rather inspiring and delightful! The videos definitely ignite our curiosities and make us think about what else we can do using these materials.

Anyway, check these out:

The contraption with a candle and a small car reminds me of their Pythagora Switch chain reaction contraption. It would be cool to be able to incorporate this kind of interesting (but still rare) materials into our chain reaction activity in the future! We're so excited to having EUPHRATES as artist-in-residence here in Tinkering Studio. Can't wait to see what they will be working on with us!

Related blog posts about EUPHRATES:
Nice to meet you EUPHRATES (8/11/2014)

A neat stereoscopic book (8/12/2014)

Biological motion in animation (8/15/2014)