We have been incredibly busy, so here's a quick list of things we've accomplished since the last update:
We still have several things to do before it is completed, but testing today has confirmed that our prototype is capable of all the things we had hoped. In the next few days we plan to permanently fix the surface material onto the green, acquire a fourth power supply to ensure adequate current for each actuator, and polish up the exterior of the green so it looks nice for the golf team.
For your enjoyment, here are a couple videos of the prototype in action. The first is a straight(ish) putt, and in the second video, the green has been programmed to give a nasty left-to-right break (right-to-left from the perspective of the camera).
First is a picture of our set of car jacks arranged to give us a feel for the eventual size and shape of the green. Note that the tape on the ground outlines the edges of our green.
Next is a picture of our first attempt at connecting a motor to a car jack. This actuator is functional, but the motor is one of the slowest we have, so we're in the process of building another actuator with a faster motor.
This is a picture of our second actuator using a newer motor. The car jack for this actuator is smaller than the first, which required some "creative" welding to overcome. Hopefully that's not necessary for all thirty of our final actuators!
Finally we have a picture of our first functional power circuit. This circuit provides current from a PC power supply to the motor through an integrated circuit, which is controlled by the microcontroller in the bottom left of the image.
Keep checking in periodically, as we'll continue to update with our newest developments!
First, our budget has been approved by the (surprisingly) generous engineering faculty. That is not to say that we were surprised the faculty is generous, but more at the extent of their generosity. A huge thanks to them for believing in our project and agreeing to a significant financial investment. It is now up to use to follow through and deliver a fantastic project.
Second, we have been able to overcome some of the technical obstacles that have been causing some anxiety. We now have a working user interface which passes control signals to a microprocessor, and a circuit to receive signals from the microprocessor to provide current to a motor. This proof of concept gives us great confidence, as the rest of this portion of the project should not (fingers crossed) prove to be a feasibility roadblock. There is still a lot of hard work to be done, but we now know that none of that work is fundamentally impossible.
Third, the team has devised a solution to a problem that has been in the back of our minds for a while. We made the decision to move away from using stepper motors, which can be controlled very precisely, to using DC motors for our prototype due to cost and complexity issues. This decision created some of its own complications, though. Since we do not need to control the heights of the actuators to minute fractions of an inch, the DC motors and their inherent lack of predictability are not necessarily bad, but over time, small errors could cause the green to become unusable. We discussed many ways of negating this issue, but were not convinced that it could be solved without adding sensors to each actuator to determine its height. This solution would work, but would require a microcontroller with 50% more I/O pins and could require a lot of design time that our team may or may not have at the end of the semester. This past week, however, we stumbled upon a way to "zero" the actuators, providing a way for the user to reset them to their original positions and fixing any drift that may have occurred during operation. We feel this development will make the green much more marketable and functional, especially for the golf team which will receive the prototype when it is completed.
There have been many other victories for our team as well. We continue to hone our welding and metalworking skills, which will become vital as we attempt to create up to thirty car-jack/window-motor linkages, our putting surface is being developed to provide a realistic feel while allowing for the flex needed to be adjustable, and our external enclosure for the green continues to take shape.
Things are beginning to ramp up in a big way, so we'll try to include updates as often as possible to keep people in the loop. (And hopefully show some pictures of our progress as we go!)
Last week the team reached a major milestone in the project by constructing the first car jack and motor system that moved up and down with electricity.
The prototype has taken on greater meaning as we have decided to construct it so that the Calvin golf teams will be able to use it in years to come. This means the prototype must not only be a proof of concept, but it must be functional and robust.
The team has also decided to enter the BizPlan competition at Calvin. This is a competition in which students submit their ideas for a business along with a complete business plan to compete for a cash prize. The team already has a head start on the business plan, since one was constructed last semester for Business 357. The team learned a lot creating the business plan last semester and hopes to make the necessary revisions to present a more sustainable business.
The PPFS report has been posted on the documents page, along with both of the presentations our team has made to the Senior Design class.
Now that we have determined that our project should be feasible, we are excited to press on and begin realizing some of the physical components of the project. This next semester is where the rubber of our education hits the road to real-world experience.
We have also completed (though we are sure we will edit as we go) our detailed schedule for the rest of the project. The volume of work that needs to be done is hammered home when you see a number in the hundreds in the hours column next to your name.
In the past two weeks each member of the team has been putting in a great deal of time researching all of our design alternatives for the mechanical system we'll use to raise and lower sections of the green. Several possibilities have been all but ruled out, while others have proven to be feasible, pending calculations.
Several small prototypes for different portions of the design have been started, and getting something physical in our hands has gotten us excited about the possibilities of the project.
Our team has met with the group of business students assigned to use our project as the basis for a business plan. We are excited about the opportunity to work with them and hope our teams will be able to help eachother greatly.
We have spent most of our team time lately brainstorming methods of controlling the contours of our green. Several possible solutions have been identified, and we will be diving into the process of deciding which will work the best for us.