An Alfa Update

Hi everyone,

Just a quick update to let you know how we're going with the Alfa digital interactive.

We've been making good progress with our prototyping efforts. At this stage, we're really concentrating on getting our working environment setup and operational. We're also figuring out the software, hardware and tools we're going to need to deliver the Alfa.

Prototyping the dashboard - reference photos close at hand.

At this stage, we want to get real world interaction, ie: movement of the cars controls, into a digital environment. We've chosen the Unity3D game engine for this, partly due to some experience that our volunteers already have, but also because it provides us with a 3d environment where we can write custom code for the simulation, but easily hook it into a 3D representation of the Alfa. Unity makes this task fairly easily, as we can create a 3d model of the dash board and attach scripts we write in C# to drive the interactions. We've built a basic dashboard model in Sketchup, which becomes the basis for our prototyping. We've created a Unity script that communicates with a sketch on the arduino to pass data back and forth between the digital model and the real world. We can twist a switch on our arduio breadboard, which manipulates the gauges on the digital model. Our protype is fairly crude at this stage, but it lets us try out ideas very quickly. We've made rapid progress and right now we can get digital and analog input into the model, and digital and analog output back to the real world.

Functioning gearbox prototype.

We're also starting to build some mechanical prototypes, such as this rather crude version of the gear box. The gearbox is based on this project we found online. We've copied the basic idea for the mechanism, but we're running the input from the micro-switches into our arduino, and then on into Unity. So far, so good, the gearbox feels somewhat like a proper mechanism, and Unity can track which gear we're in. The next step will be to improve upon this design, we've already tried parts for the mechanism, but these ultimately proved too fragile. Mike and Mark also have a few ideas to make the input more sensetive, to give more accurate feedback. 

Our next phase will be to hook up the output of our Unity script to drive some analog gauges. We're also going to port some of our code across to one of the custom I/O boards that Definium produces, and switch the communication to ethernet rather than USB. We've also got plenty of other work around the creation of digital assets, and refinements to the physical prototype. I want to thank James C, Mayra and Fernando for their work so far, as well as Nat for his help and enthusiasm, as well as all the advice from Mike and the museum staff. I'm really excited at the pace this project is progressing, and I'm looking forward to seeing what we can build together.

If you like the sound of what we are doing, or want to help out, then feel free to drop us a line on our contact page.