For the design and construction of this second iteration of the project we let an initial gameplay idea and a limited time frame inform the final product.
Unlike the first iteration, we stripped away as much technical complexity as possible, leaving us with a very simple implementation of serial DC circuitry. Using our rudimentary understanding of circuitry we then proceeded to generate the game design first. Using cheap hex tiles we mocked up and played out a number of games using these tiles. Once the rules were established we figured out how many of each type of player piece would need to be constructed.
The limited time we had also informed the supplies we used. Gone were all the expensive Arduino lilypad components, as they would take far too long to ship. All components were based on their Amazon Prime eligibility.
Parts like fabric, thread, and the battery holder were not difficult to procure. For the battery holder, I bought a series of regular coin cell battery holders and found a means to convert them so that they could be sewed onto our fabric pieces.
For the LEDs, I performed a bit of research regarding the kind used in the Lilypad variant and learned that the ones used by Arduino Lilypad as well as the general circuit board belong to a particular class called SMD (for Surface Mounted Device). A machine is fed these cartridges of teeny tiny components, which it then prints onto whatever material you’ve placed below it.
The fabric was quite a bit trickier, and I initially had a bit of trouble finding conductive fabric that could ship in a timely manner. After roving about I finally learned about shielding fabric, fabric used by the radiation-conscious to shield themselves from EMR waves. Though this fabric too was not Prime-Eligible it held options to be shipped much much faster, and a variety of options also proved to be cheaper than the Lilypad variant. During the conference itself, a few other suggestions for sources were also offered. Similar fabric would be offered in bulk to designers of astronaut suits and fencing gear.
A major part of the process greatly inspired by the time crunch was the use of a laser cutter. Sadly the need to prep materials and watch over the cutter also proved to be a bit of a time muncher, but there is no doubt it saved us much valuable time in the end (especially with regards to the patterns that needed to be cut from the conductive fabric!) Dr. Smith then played a major part in the assembly and construction of the +100 player pieces, sewing all the pieces together.
For me the most challenging and time-consuming aspect came in prepping the tiny SMD LEDs I’d just recently learned about and procured. Though they were quite powerful, effective and cheap, they were also originally meant to be mounted via machine. Using my clumsy, error-prone human hands I cut each cartridge and threaded them, then wrapped the ends with conductive thread, so that the teeny LEDs on the inside could receive current from whatever connected to the wrapped ends on the outside. It was a difficult and somewhat stressful challenge, with the possibility of a slipped bit of conductive thread or a blown LED constantly haunting me throughout the conference. Thankfully the preparation of 4 sets meant that, when one light blew, another piece could be called into service.
During our brief testing phase we checked to see if sewing the sides together of our player pieces helped build a connection successfully. We discovered that sewing could only be tolerated 4 times before the quality of the connection degraded. Sewing and disassembling would also take up too much time, so in the end I bought conductive tape and cut it into small pieces that could be used to generate a temporary connection. In the end even taping ended up being a time consuming affair, so we relented to an idea that had long since haunted us since the beginning. The use of conductive velcro.
This stuff is basically the regular velcro stuff, except ooh, silver coated. Being silver coated, the stuff is highly expensive ($7.50 for 3 inches!). It was, however, extraordinarily effective. With a mere slap of a patch one could check immediately if a connection worked.
One issue that may arise later, in an all-velcro iteration, though is the lack of a safety against short circuits. Then again, plenty of people during the conference still managed to make oh so many delightful short circuits despite the taping barrier.
At any rate, I am at the moment looking into cheaper sources for the conductive velcro. I have found a somewhat cheaper alternative, but sadly it requires a minimum order of like, $1000 worth of the stuff for 75 feet. Way way more than we probably need, not to mention I am not sure how effective the stuff is.
Two other methods is to thread regular velcro with conductive thread ( a very time-consuming method), or to attempt some chemistry and use science to metal-coat regular velcro ourselves. I will have to ask my more chem-savvy friends what they think of this latter idea.
In a future iteration we will make liberal use of conductive velcro, and we plan on experimenting with AC current. Its successful implementation would also resolve us of the short-circuiting problem that plagued us during the studio. With its successful addition, we then can proceed to try our hand at playing with EL wire, that awesome, pretty stuff. For now, I suppose some research into AC is a must.