The Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum recently won an Editor’s award for outstanding exhibitions at the Maker Faire, an event held at The Henry Ford in Dearborn. The Ann Arbor museum’s booth at the summer 2010 fair included a newly completed exhibit designed and developed by ME faculty and students: the Inverted Pendulum.
The Inverted Pendulum exhibit was conceived of and designed and built by students in ME 450 capstone design sections led by Assistant Professor Shorya Awtar. The project highlights the importance of feedback controls and balancing in natural and man-made systems. The human-transporter Segway, for example, relies on an inverted pendulum balanced via feedback controls, where the center of gravity is continuously adjusted to prevent the transporter from falling over, much like a person trying to balance a stick on his or her finger.
Likewise, the students’ museum exhibit includes a free vertical pendulum pivoted at the end of a horizontal arm, which is driven by a motor. Sensors measure the pendulum and motor angles, and a micro-controller uses this information to command the motor to keep the pendulum balanced in an inverted position.
“I was astounded at how kids of all ages–well over a thousand direct participants over two days–were enthralled at the Inverted Pendulum,” said Mel Drumm, director of the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum.
“Children watched the pendulum, bright-eyed, for long periods of time. It was a wonderful experience that was made possible by the commitment of Professor Awtar and his cohorts of students,” Drumm added. “The museum’s quest is to inspire the scientists and engineers of tomorrow, and the inverted pendulum exhibit is paving the way.”