Sweet Solutions

Winter 2014

CANDY BOWL: Rick Eben (left) and Edward  Bryner (right) demonstrate their flashy, high-tech dish for sweets.
CANDY BOWL: Rick Eben (left) and Edward
Bryner (right) demonstrate their flashy, high-tech
dish for sweets.

Like it or not, most candy bowls play second fiddle to their sweet, coveted contents. Not the Infinity Candy Bowl, however.

Born from an annual assignment in the Department of Mechanical Engineering’s Robot Sensors and Actuators Class, the bowl created by seniors Rick Eben and Edward Bryner has a microphone to sense whether anyone is nearby. Any sounds will trigger the bowl to emit music, with the goal of drawing in a sweet-seeking child. Once the child is within three feet of the bowl, an ultrasonic sensor then sets off blinking lights. Mirrors inside the bowl give it a fantastical, bottomless appearance, and the bowl switches off after candy is removed.

Even though it’s meant to amuse, the work that went into building it isn’t. David Kraemer, the senior lecturer who teaches the class, asked his students to create a device with at least two sensors, an actuator, and some type of human input and quantitative display. The student also had to use an Arduino, a single-board microprocessor that acted as the device’s brain, and stay under a $50 budget.

“The real point is to get some hands-on experience with sensors and actuators,” says Kraemer.

Based on the project’s October through December production time, Kraemer gave his students the option to create a device inspired by the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas. The 1993 stop-motion animation film by Tim Burton is about what happens when a town specializing in Halloween tries its hand at Christmas.

While some students rigged up the likes of suped-up motion sensor ghosts, others opted for more practical devices with a twist, like a device to let a disabled person control a toy car with motions of their head, and a man cave beverage fridge. (A hand clap is all it takes to open it.)

The Infinity Candy Bowl took Eben and Bryner roughly 20 hours to build. The duo said their biggest challenge was getting the light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to blink to the beat of the music.

“To correct the issue, since our microprocessor wasn’t able to send out two signals at a time that didn’t distort the music, we actually relistened to the signal we were sending out through the speaker with our microphone,” says Bryner. “That allowed us to take that signal and push it to the LEDs, and by doing that we were able to flash the LEDs at the right time.”