Bringing Bobbleheads to Life

Oct 10, 2018

When Liberty Mutual asked us to help out with their presence at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing in Houston, TX, we were first entirely honored and then totally nerded out. Moreover, we were beyond ecstatic when they went for one of our “out there” ideas: creating custom bobbleheads made of legendary women in computing & technology and use them to drive an interactive experience. Here’s a behind-the scenes look at how we pulled this off.

Here’s how it works

The first challenge was to determine how to make a computer recognize that a bobblehead has, well, bobbled. We considered using conductive ink or copper tape in conjunction with capacitive touch, but wanted the trigger to more “hidden.” We also considered a mechanical switch inside the bobblehead, but wanted more control over the sensitivity and direction of movement. We ultimately opted to hide an accelerometer inside the bobblehead and use an Arduino to make sense of the readings, as well as bridge the gap between the sensor and the computer driving the monitor. Though we considered using Bluetooth to make it wireless, the statues would be stationary and we opted for a wired solution to keep the hardware inside the bobblehead to a minimum and remove battery power from the equation. We chose this accelerometer for ease of mounting and wiring.


Here’s a wiring diagram for our final solution:



The next step was to determine the best way to communicate with our software. We opted for Arduino’s built-in keyboard emulation for simplicity (supported on 32u4 or SAMD micro based boards, such as the Arduino Micro). We considered serial for two-way communication and more flexibility with the messaging structure, but decided it was unnecessary for this project.

 

Here’s the final Arduino sketch:

 

<script src="https://gist.github.com/rbrecher/f703e2a22b4f2666366fbaf9e03c4cf5.js"></script>

 

 

Behind-The-Scenes Pictures

 

Each of the 5 bobbleheads triggered a video featuring stats and interesting facts about the notable lady. The videos, produced by our in-house motion graphics team, were presented in 3 segments. The guest would tap to start showing the video, then tap again at each chapter to continue learning about the person’s accomplishments.


The app which drove the experience was created with openFrameworks, one of our favorite toolkits for building interactive experiences. The only pain point was the wear and tear on the bobbleheads from so much bobbling!

 

 

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