Blinko

Blinko, the vertical anti-gravity classic. It’s grandfather, Plinko, was revolutionary in the chaotic table game division. However, blinko serves to help it’s users understand the chaotic nature and efficacy of their own controls within the safety of 12 square inches. Using smooth slidy knobbs, the user controls the speed of 3 high powered fans to propel a small balloon through the enclosure, attempting to activate all 3 points of the light triangle. 

Its creators, me and Laura Murray, were inspired by the simplicity of classic table games that could be shared throughout generations such as tic-tac-toe, Plinko, connect 4, etc. we took Plinko, wanting to integrate the technological interaction and to re-invent the expectation of game play, to connect users to an important idea about their own lives. In this way, we could combine a classic tradition, present entertainment of technology, and reflection of existence all in one place.

In blinko, users are asked to control the direction of an object with just the speeds of fans pointed at two angles of 20 degrees off 90 degrees. This removed since of controls necessitates that users detach themselves from the idea that they are in direct control of the game. In our modern society where many of the perils of early human life are unknown to us, Laura and I both observed that students have a heightened sense of compulsive control. We seem unable to sit in the comfortability of chaos or in situations where we do not have direct control to the outcome of our interactions. Blinko asks the users to detach themselves from the need to control. It asks them to enjoy the chaos of volatile air flow.

Laura worked mostly on the components and circuitry controls of the fans. I created the enclosure and designed the point-collection system that used photocells to trigger different neopixels.

Early on in the project, I ran into some quick problems with the enclosure. In the ITLL, Corel Draw was having difficulty scaling my Illustrator SVG file to the real-life dimensions I was planning on using. I sorted that issue out after burning through a few extra pieces of acrylic. The scale coefficient seemed pretty arbitrary (I think like 67% or something) so I think the svg might not have been saving enough information. Once the enclosure was finished, I started working with the neopixels and photocells.

We also found trouble finding fans that would fit within the dimensions of the project specifications. We at first attempted with some computer fans which stated online they would pull a bigger air flow, but once plugging them in they produced the amount of air a new born baby lamb would with its first breath. Our second round of the fans were super large are wouldn’t fit into the enclosure, they also didn’t pull much of an air flow which was silly. Finally, after three weeks of waiting for fan parts, we settled on using smile 5 V motors in the hopes that they would pull a strong enough air flow once we assembled and attached fan tops either 3D printed or made out of stiff material.

In hindsight, we should have put more forethought into the airflow and aerodynamics of the project than just jumping into the electronics of it. We waited too long and put too much importance on the fans working well with regards to the overall functionality of the project. If we had decided at the first attempt with the fan that this idea was not necessarily feasible, we would have had plenty of time to pivot the idea into a functional game under the same premise without relying on the strength of the fans.

I’m proud that we were able to get all the electronics working perfectly within the enclosure. The only flaw to the project was not in the technical realm, but strictly physical. The game played on an infinite loop as intended, and the potentiometers controlled the speed of the motors as intended.

An early-stage Maya render from our prototype got us excited about the aesthetics and allowed us to further visualize the project in three dimensions.

Arduino:

Here’s the code I wrote for the neopixels and photocells:

Here’s Laura’s code for the potentiometers and DC Motors:

 

The view of the intended interaction. We didn’t want our projectiles to be completely controllable, mimicking the chaos that surrounds us. We wanted users to be able to find comfort and excitement within a state of entropy. 
Here are some progress photos of our designs:

 

 

the soldered circuitry wasn’t the most glamorous, but it allowed us to only use the breadboards for power/ground and keep everything much more durable.
Below is the schematic diagram for the first arduino, controlling the 4 DC Motors through the two jumbo potentiometers. When we connected the neopixel apparatus and fans to the same arduino, the motors for the fans slowed down significantly, so we decided to use two separate arduinos, one controlling the potentiometer/fan apparatus and one controlling the photocell/neopixel apparatus.

Below is the schematic diagram for the second arduino controlling the neopixels and photocells.

 

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