Bubblefest 2019 at Chabot
Last weekend we participated in Chabot Space and Science Center’s first annual “Bubblefest” event which gave us the chance to try out a few new tupperware micro:bit bubble machines that kids and adults could interact with. We based the environment off of a previous event that we did at the Figment Art Festival in Oakland last year, but I also wanted to create a new interactive bubble bot to add to the collection.
To get inspiration, I looked up existing commercial designs and found a bunch of toys with a rotating circle of wands and a fan. I thought that I could make a quick version of this design using the continuous servo motors controlled with Micro:bit that we experimented with this summer in our playful programming camp.
I made a prototype version that worked well and then added the interactive elements of a potentiometer to control the speed of the rotating bubble wand circle and an arcade button to turned the fan on for five seconds.
The next morning at Chabot, I set up a small tinkering studio on the outdoor patio space with the giant bubble blowing tower anchoring the space and two tables with the interactive bubble machines.
It was really fun to see parents and kids working together to manipulate the machines and so cool to see visitors of all ages delighted by these prototypes.
One thing that I was surprised about was how long some of the kids stayed at the table playing with the machines. I had imagined that it would be just a quick interaction of 5-10 minutes maximum, but many participants spent 30-40 minutes playing with the machines, observing the parts and perfecting the semi-automated technique.
There were lots of great conversations about how the bots were programmed and many people wanted to see if they could figure out how to build their own versions of the machines at home.
It was also cool to see how many very young kids got the experience playing with these contraptions. A bunch of three to five year olds tested out the machines and in the process they had the chance to get their hands on these components that might otherwise be reserved for older learners.
Of course like any public test run with a new exhibit not everything went exactly according to plan. One issue that I didn’t anticipate with the new design was that the constant spinning of the bubble wand circle created a lots of suds which covered the servo and shorted out one of the machines. I think for the next iteration, we’ll need to extend the servo a little bit more away from the solution tub or create a protective barrier.
The bubblefest was a super fun (and extremely popular) event! I always love opportunities to experiment with Micro:bit robots that have a low threshold but can be taken to surprising levels of complexity. There are so many different themes for robots beyond cars or battle bots and it’s been fun to test out a few different whimsical and playful bubble machines.