IR "Laser" Tag: Post Mini Maker Faire Update

We had a ton of fun at the North Little Rock Mini Maker Faire today, May 2.  We kicked off the publicity and making for our summer series the Nomadic Geek.  There will be 5-7 events over the course of the summer that center around (free) tech learning.  Together we will use our Nomadic Geek kit to create a variety of Raspberry Pi and Adafruit Trinket based projects that are going to be a blast, and draw our community together. All the info about will be here on our site.

For now, read about the IR Tag kit, and how they can be improved. The bright and creative minds of Arkansas gave us a ton of great feedback, that we will include in the next batch of kits.  We expect these to be available at our pop-ups around May 15 and at our workshop on May 30.

If you didn't visit us at the Mini Maker Faire you probably want to check out our first post about IR Tag version 1.0.


We learned more about you, the people that will make with us

Some of our suspicion was confirmed, and a few interesting things were revealed. Our game makers and players are diverse in their age and their experience with technology. We were pleased to see a lot of parents actively engaged in giving their kids ways to get their hands on technology, and try some programming as play. Likewise, makers are rising to the challenge (as we predicted). There are lots of you involved who have all sorts of great knowledge and experience that will help make this game great. All in all, we have a great mix of potential makers and participants for a Central AR wide game of IR Tag.  With that said, if you are new to this sort of thing and you are reading this post - please do not be concerned if something is "over your head" because it will not in any way impact your ability to have fun throughout this process. For you, what those moments of geek should mean is simple: people in your community will happily help make fun stuff, and play along. The Locals will also be around to help you out if you get confused. At The Locals that means pop-up workshops and events, for those in the North Little Rock area you can probably find people playing with this at The Launch Pad.  

Now let's get to what The Locals crew and I have learned....

First important lesson: the afternoon sun is bright. 

It sounds silly, but one of the things we did not consider was how bright sunlight would impact our creation.  Since our very simple starter program is really just looking for the infrared signal, and sunlight contains plenty of IR, being out on a bright afternoon can cause them to go off constantly.  The problems are stronger before you get the IR unit in a case that provides a little bit of shielding for the infrared sensor (basically cover the edges of the sensor so that other players have to hit you a bit more straight on, additionally this helps to reduce noise from random remote control usage).  Tony gave us a few pointers on what other devices he has used do to reduce this.  In the end, many of the solutions aren't pressing in terms of return on time invested because the simplest thing to do is play with this later in the evening or indoors. Seems simple: if your device is buzzing a bunch, it might just be too bright for this version.  Admittedly, there were a couple build kits we did not sell because we worried something was wrong (triggering too much) when we now see that this was the real issue.

A couple of better ways to assemble for easiest build & future modification

We really want this first version to encourage users to tweak and personalize their badge. Let's face it, it's more fun if you can take it apart after you're bored and make it work differently.  Makers want to make, what can we say.

For that reason we distributed a lot of not yet assembled kits. That had some great results, one of the best being quick feedback. Some folks were able to (thanks Leif!) visit the soldering demo, and solder the headers onto their board. Others just told us how they planned to put it together - breadboard, solder, or something we hadn't thought of.  It was so great to have the luxury to talk with so many of you - including many helpful participants that did not actually purchase the kit (while supplies lasted).  Here are some of our key takeaways:

A lot of people do not have soldering irons. That being said, there are a lot of reasons why it isn't that great for us to solder up a bunch of these. Namely, it rules out the tweaking and it takes away a great part of the learning/building experience. The easy solution we see: we need to solder JUST the headers on the board. 

When we sent out this batch, with the idea that people would be soldering, we did so in order to keep costs down. What really happens is that a lot of you then need to pick-up another part, because you actually do not plan to solder it up (at least not right away). At this moment we are still undecided on the little breadboard, which is a bit more costly, but very helpful thing for a new user to have at their disposal. The option we are leaning more toward is a perf-board with headers that result in the Trinket equivalent of 'a shield'. We did do one prototype like this prior to the event, but with just headers. This adds a bit to the cost, but a perf board is worth it. (IE. we learned we were being cheap)

For those with a kit already: it isn't bad to solder things up if you feel comfortable, otherwise you should probably grab a breadboard. Drop by on May 30th and see if the what we have come up with and how you can revise yours (it will be pretty easy if you take the breadboard route). Mainly we want to make this change in order to make it all easier and slicker, but things will work fine as we described in our previous post. Email shawn (at) laluchaspace (dot) com if you have any trouble with your build.

It's not THAT original, and that's not bad at all.

Lots of people had thought about making something like this and just needed the tiniest push to make something. Those of you reading this are likely our ideal participants because you're up to tinker along with us and you aren't put off by the in-process nature of our IR Tag game.  If anything, it seems like our biggest gamble was a good one - I believe that people will take this idea and run with it in a way that allows us to have a summer of infrared tag fun.  Yup, BLE is probably a great future direction, but for now we can keep expanding and playing with the not-so-connected badges and together we are much more likely to cultivate unique, open, and affordable games that are accessible to our community and relatively easy for us to propagate. 

Thank you for participating, let's play! Don't forget to sport your badge when you get it running - I know I'm on the lookout and have my remote handy.  

** A note for those of you who are buying parts to build one of these. The IR Receiver we used is not the one currently (May 2) listed on Adafruit. We tested it but 3v was not sufficient for reliable performance, we found some that were designed to operate at 3v.  Otherwise everything we used is available on their site.

Thanks to Adafruit for helping educators, community organizers, and hackerspaces. They have a ton of resources on their site, so look there for other fun projects to make with the Trinket included in the kits (if you got one from us).  

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published this page in Blog 2015-05-02 21:56:22 -0500