Andrew Burks

Tag: Gate

Vibratron Structure

by on Oct.12, 2010, under RobOrchestra, Robotics Club, Vibratron

While I had made some preliminary designs of the Vibratron structure a few months ago, I can now begin to finalize some of the key support structure as the ball dispensing mechanism is finalized. 

Key Unit

Experimentation showed us that the ideal location of the ball dispenser is with the tube perfectly vertical, six inches above the center of a key tilted at 45 degrees.  A modular unit consisting of 4 pieces of lasercut plastic and a gate mechanism was designed to hold the keys and gates in their proper relative positions.

Key Unit - Alone Iso

Key Unit Mounting

A large sheet of 1/4” thick aluminum will be waterjet into a shape that can hold 30 of these key units.  Each unit will be attached to the aluminum by two lasercut clips which are held down by cotter pins.

Circle with single Gate - Front Iso

Circle with single Gate - Back Iso

30 Key Units

With 30 key units on one large piece of aluminum, the weight of the entire assembly is already at 50 pounds with a diameter of over 3 feet.  In the future, the ball recirculation system (an Archimedes screw leading into a paintball hopper) will rise out from the middle of the aluminum circle, and the ball collection system (a foam floor to catch the balls) will stick out below and around the keys.

Circle with Gates - Overall

Circle with Gates - Detail - Front Depth

Circle with Gates - Detail - Back

180 pieces of plastic, over 90 of them unique

There are 6 pieces of lasercut 1/8” red acrylic in each of the 30 key units.  3 of those 6 pieces are unique.  1 of the other 3 pieces has 6 different sizes, and the final 2 are each repeated in all 30 assemblies.

Obviously I did not want to model 98 different pieces of plastic and insert them individually into models.  Fortunately, design tables in SolidWorks are very powerful.  In the end, I only needed to make 5 plastic parts and 5 obnoxious Excel spreadsheets to get an assembly (“Key Unit”) with 30 unique configurations.  Some of the plastic parts even have their note engraved into the side!

Design Table

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Final Gate Design Testing

by on Oct.04, 2010, under RobOrchestra, Robotics Club, Vibratron

The mechanism we designed on Wednesday was constructed this past weekend.  It takes about one hour to manufacture each of the three parts that comprise the gate mechanism.  However, it costs less than five dollars to construct a full gate assembly.


The assembly turned out just as planned.  The only issue that we ran into was that there needed to be a washer between the solenoid mounting plate and the tube in order to keep the solenoid and window lined up.  Each of the three parts will need to be machined 30 times to assemble the full Vibratron.


The extruded aluminum tube that the balls roll through has an inner diameter of 0.5” and an outer diameter of 1”.  In the final version it will be much shorter (roughly three inches long) but for testing purposes a longer tube was used here.

On one side of the tube there are a set of holes drilled and tapped for a #6-32 bolt, with a channel milled in between to allow clearance for the solenoid bracket.  Orthogonal to those features is a through hole for the tip to enter the tube and a counter-bore on that hole for an o-ring to sit in.


The mount connects the tube to the solenoid, and the assembly to the rest of the robot.  In this version, instead of an L-bracket like in the rendered design, we used a plate for simplicity.


Made from HDPE on a Lathe, the tip blocks the balls from passing through the tube when down.  The conical shape prevents the tip from jamming on the top of a ball when closing.  The flat end of the tip has a hole for the solenoid to mount in.  A perpendicular set of holes connects the tip to the solenoid with a #4-40 bolt.

Side View

Gate Prototype - Side

Detail View

Gate Prototype - detail


During Sunday’s meeting the team put the mechanism through a variety of tests.  The end result was the decision to move ahead with the design and incorporate it into the main Vibratron assembly.


Two potentiometers were used to vary the two delays involved with letting a single ball pass through the mechanism.  The first delay controls how long the solenoid is powered.  During this time, the gate rises up.  The second delay controls the minimum amount of time it takes for the spring to return the gate to a closed position after the solenoid is turned off.

After considerable testing, it was determined that the perfect amount of time for both parameters is 35ms.  This means that it takes 70ms to dispense each ball at maximum speed (obviously you could go slower, effectively increasing the second delay).  At this speed, the mechanism can dispense over 14 balls per second!

Power Draw

When left on for a significant amount of time (>1 second) the solenoids draw 3 amps at 12 volts.  This is a large amount of current.  However, when the solenoid is only on for 35 thousandths of a second, the average current draw drops to around .9 amps.  With a capacitor in the power circuit to soften initial power spikes when the solenoid is first turned on, the power requirements of the device seem much more reasonable.


The final test of the mechanism was to test its durability.  The device was run for 1000 consecutive cycles, mostly without any balls in the tube.  After the cycles completed, the solenoid was only slightly warm.  Because of the low (10%) duty cycle of the solenoid, overheating was a major concern.  But after this test, the group is confident that this solenoid can perform adequately.

In the initial prototype of the gate mechanism, the plastic tip was bent and mangled after only a few hours of testing.  In the new version, the o-ring support the load of the closing gate on the sides instead of the tip.  The durability test showed the the tip could maintain its shape even after significant use.


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Gate-Style Ball Dispenser

by on Sep.30, 2010, under RobOrchestra, Robotics Club, Vibratron

The Problem

After several iterations of the wheel-style ball dispensing approach, I decided to try a gating mechanism instead.  The main drawback of the wheel approach was the low throughput.  Only about 4 balls per second could be dispensed.  Xylobot, however, can play over 20 notes per second.  While Xylobot’s speed isn’t fully necessary, at least 8 balls per second is a reasonable goal.  The wheel mechanisms do not meet that goal.

The Solution

The basic idea of a single gate mechanism is that the stream of balls is free to fall out the end of its containing tube whenever the gate is open.  The trick is opening the gate for a short enough period of time to consistently allow only one ball to pass through the gate per activation.  In our prototype, the time required to let one ball through was about 40ms.  With delays to account for the return motion of the gate and the settling of the balls, the prototype gate mechanism could achieve a rate of 11 balls per second.


The most important part of this design is constraining the balls to one dimensional travel.  This was achieved by basing the gate around an aluminum tube with an inner diameter of .5”.  The gate would be entering perpendicular to the direction of travel, through a hole in the aluminum tube.  When the gate is up the balls roll through, but when the gate is down the balls are unable to pass through the gate.

The gate itself is a cone of plastic.  The conical shape is important because any non-angled surface has the potential to jam by clamping on the top of the ball.

The plastic cone is attached to a pull-type solenoid with a spring return.  The built in mounting bracket on the solenoid is a great advantage, but the 3-4 amp power draw (at 12 volts) is a major disadvantage.  The gate is normally closed, but when powered the solenoid pulls the cone out of the way of the balls.

In the initial prototype the mechanism made a large amount of excess noise when releasing a ball.  Quiet actuation is important for a musical instrument because the sound of the ball hitting the vibraphone key needs to not be overwhelmed by any other noise.  The addition of an o-ring to act as a hard stop when the gate returns to the closed position should help to muffle the noise produced by the prototype.

The final integration of this mechanism (actually 30 of these mechanisms, one per key) will have the tube nearly vertical, with the gate at the bottom.  With balls feeding into the top of the tube from Mike’s hopper mechanism, the gate will dispense one ball at a time, allowing them to fall onto the key and play a note.


Side View

Gate - Cross Section

Isometric Render

Gate - Iso Opaque

Isometric Render with Transparent Tube

Gate - Iso Transparent

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