Robot Park

Project: A virtual park environment in which a programmable robot can be put through its paces.

Challenges:  The basic layout of this exhibit had been determined by another designer from a local university.  The actual construction require little more than some straight-forward cabinetry.  For me, the challenge was to develop the exhibit’s overall feel.  Since the exhibit is about robots, I opted for the perhaps obvious, but hopefully successful, mechanistic theme.

Solutions:  To achieve a mechanistic look, I took advantage of four peripheral aspects of the exhibit: 1) the little robot itself 2) the overhead light and camera housing, 3) the activation switch for the programming sequence and 4) the Robot Park Entrance Sign, which you can read about here.

1) The robot itself needed to have a “probe” that activated the Robot Park sign that is visible in the upper left corner of the mural.   Actually, the “probe” is just a bunch of inert plastic, springs, and cable shielding arranged to look functional.  The only actual operational aspect of this faux probe is that it hides a magnet in its tip.  The magnet is what actually activates the Robot Park sign.  Still, it looks pretty cool and definitely fits in well with the robotic feel of the exhibit.

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2)  The light housing you can see projecting over the control console is made from a piece of PVC pipe cut lengthwise.  The support arm is made from various pieces of 80/20 framing material.  It needed to be adjustable, and it is a happy accident that the necessary joints and fittings only add to its robot-arm-like appearance.

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3) The point of this exhibit is to arrange the tiles on the control console so that the computer – via the camera in the light housing – can analyze the tiles and give the instructions to the robot.  But it needed a start button that would blend with the rest of the exhibit and – importantly – have no sharp edges.  I constructed a housing of wacky wood and laminated it with the same laminate as the counter top.  Since the bottom of the start button is flat but rests on a curved surface, I had to machine a small fitting to created a smooth transition between the two.  It is visible here as the black square under the start button.  Finally, to complete the mechanistic feel and unite all the various elements, I decided to trim the edges of the control console with aluminum.  This aluminum trim is visible in the picture below.

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