Gadget of the Year Won't Spill Your Drinks

The 2015 Gadget Freak of the Year goes to the DDV-IP -- or, a Drink Deliver Vehicle - Inverted Pendulum. The gadget is a two-wheeled self-balancing robot that can deliver cold beverages to thirsty folks on a hot summer day. A wireless RF remote enables manual control of the device beyond the act of self-balancing. All of the features of the DDV-IP result in an effective delivery vehicle while providing entertainment to the users.

The gadget was created by a team of engineering students from Colorado State University, that included Doug Swift, Tyler Reedy, Rob Harvey, and Michael Habel. "It was originally for a school project. There was a group of us and we had to incorporate six different features, including items such as an Arduino, manual input, drivers, motors, and sensors," said Swift. "Other than that, it was freeform."

 

 

 

Not sure they could pull it off

When they team came up with a project idea for their engineering class, they weren't sure it was even possible. "We didn't know if we could do it. Our professor suggested we should not do it at all," said Swift. "The skill and software involved was complicated, and we hadn't gotten far enough in our curriculum to meet the technical challenge."

The team persevered nonetheless. The demanding process went beyond the class schedule. "It took four months, and it was supposed to be a single-semester project," said Swift. "Michael (Habel) did the majority of the coding. He was large part in the brains required for the gadget. Michael's a tinkerer who had been building gadgets since the fifth grade. He had the passion.

Sadly, Habel died unexpectedly two weeks after this project was completed. During the project, Habel took the time to teach the required technology to his teammates. "We came out of this learning a lot, and we attribute that to Michael," said Swift.

During the brainstorming sessions, Harvey came up with the idea of doing an inverted pendulum. "I saw someone with an inverted pendulum and thought that was the perfect solution. We brainstormed the gadget into a Segway transport, and we experimented with the control system that entails," said Harvey. "The most difficult part was getting the control system to work. None of us had the experience in control systems. We could see the logic, but it took trial and error to get it to work."

 

 

 

 

Teamwork was the solution to big challenges

While the challenge was beyond original expectations, teamwork helped get the DDV-IP to the finish line. "We worked together very well, and that made the project possible," said Swift. "We had a really good group. We used a lot of libraries on the Internet for the coding. We used an Arduino, and Michael did the modifications on it."

The team members have to take the gadget out to deploy it. "We've use it at friends' homes, since we all have dogs," said Swift. "Dogs will go after it." The team was surprised by the sturdiness of the two-wheel vehicle. "You have something balancing on two wheels, but it thinks quickly," said Swift. "You push on it and it's unfazed. It works much better than we ever thought it would."

As for performance, the best choice for demonstrating its abilities would seem to be on a flat, even surface. Not so. "It's very sensitive to the floors that it is on," said Reedy. "It actually works better on carpet. We think that's because of the motors. On a hardwood floor, it grips more, or it osculates more."

College is ending this May for these gadget makers, so the future of the DDV-IP is uncertain. Each student will head off in a different direction. "We talked about giving it to Michael's parents as a memento," said Reedy. "But they wanted us to show it off, instead, so we haven't decided what will become of the gadget."

One thing for certain, you'll be able to meet Swift and see the DDV-IP in action at the Pacific Design & Manufacturing show in Anaheim this February (see the details below).

Gadget Freak is sponsored by Allied Electronics. Swift and his team will receive $6,000 and two runners-up, Al Linke and Dick Bipes, will each receive $2,000.

Design engineers and professionals, the West Coast's most important design, innovation, and manufacturing event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing, is taking place in Anaheim, Feb. 10-12, 2015. A Design News event, Pacific Design & Manufacturing is your chance to meet qualified suppliers, get hands-on access to the latest technologies, be informed from a world-class conference program, and expand your network. (You might even meet a Design News editor.) Learn more about Pacific Design & Manufacturing here.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine, Chile Pepper.

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