Sunday, February 3, 2019

Electronic Tilt Bob for Pinball Machines - Part 3

It's been a few months since I last posted an update and I blame that on diving head first into a new job.  Since that has passed and it's become a routine, I'm back to Tilting.

As I stated on TiltForums, I love to get feedback because it forces me to look at things from a different perspective and improve as necessary.  After reading one of the comments, I came to the conclusion that I did not accurately simulate the physical movement of the table which can be caused by loose bolts on the machine's legs.  In fact, this particular situation made me re-evaluate how acceleration is applied and translated into the bob's movement.  In layman's terms, this just means that the math got more complicated, but from the player's perspective, the simulation feels more responsive and real ... which is the ultimate goal.

Phase 13:  Yet Another Design Improvement

Evolution is the backbone of any good project and this product has had its fair share of improvements that I've implemented.  This particular improvement is based on the future implementation of the device in a tournament environment.  I've highlighted the changes in the picture.

It might not seem like much, but adding a switch to the design increases the security of the device.

So, why the switch and what does it do?  Let me explain.

In order to configure the device, we use a wifi connection for communications.  The unit sets itself up as an Access Point that we can log into, very much the same way as your router does to do its configuration.  It can be used as a stand alone option or you can additionally connect the device to your existing router (as a Station) and access advanced options (ie tournament setting).

Connecting as a Station on your router is secure because, in theory, only you know the SSID (if hidden) and password to access it.  However, for simplicity of use, I never implemented a user settable password when the device is configured as an Access Point.  Every device has the same Access Point password as part of the initial setup and this is done to ensure that you can connect and configure it in the first place.  But this does create a dilemma.  It is equivalent to leaving the access door open on the front of the machine and allowing the player to alter the tilt mechanism during play ... Not a good idea.

Think of the switch as the lock on the front door of the machine.  When you turn on/off the switch you can enable/disable the WiFi as an Access Point.  The device will continue to access your router as a Station (if you've set it up) but it will not act as its own router to be connected to as an Access Point.  So when you flick the switch, the WiFi access to the configuration page is disabled ... just as if you had a mechanical bob and locked the cabinet door.

Phase 14:  Yaw, Pitch and Roll Sensing

It should be noted that Yaw, Pitch and Roll (YPR) values are rotational components generally received from a gyroscope and not force components in the X, Y and Z axis that are received from an accelerometer.  However, Pitch and Roll angles can be calculated from accelerometer values as described in the 2010 ST Microelectronics application note (AN3192).

PR angles calculated in this matter, as applied to a pinball machine, translates into someone lifting the front/rear of the machine (Pitch) or lifting the left/right side up (Roll).  While these values could help with the levelling of the machine during its initial installation, they provide no real value during actual gameplay.  I've yet to see a pinball machine that encourages people to physically Pitch, Roll or Yaw its 250+ pound enclosure ... bumping in the X or Y axis yes, but not rotating in YPR.

It is my opinion that pinball owners will use an external bubble level to assist with the initial roll levelling and use the playfield bubble level (if equipped) to set the pitch as per the setup instructions.  Based on this premise, I do not calculate YPR values for setup, operation or automatic levelling.  I deal exclusively with acceleration in the XYZ axis only.  Perhaps in the future I might incorporate this into the initial machine levelling however, it is very low on the priority list since players have been levelling their machines without electronic assistance for years.  I still have the ability to adjust for minor levelling offsets of the Electronic Tilt since I doubt anyone has the ability to mount any tilt device 100% level, mechanically.

Phase 15:  Y'All Ready For This

Beta testing has begun.  In other words, I've put prototypes in the hands of a number of players and I'm getting some great feedback rolling in.  A special shout out goes out to all my testers at Hammer City Pinball and Jerry at Player One Amusement Group (Toronto) for being the first ones to receive/test/critique the prototypes.

I've been offered to place one in a machine on the showroom floor of Player One Amusement Group in Toronto.  However, I've delayed the installation until I can assure that they get something in return (ie more customers).  This requires active promotion on my behalf which I'll admit, is not my forte.  To twist a Dr. McCoy Star Trek quote "Dammit Jim, I'm an Engineer not a Salesman".

Send me a message if you'd be interested in going there to see it in action and I'll prioritize the install.

UPDATE:  I am planning to be at Player One Amusements (Toronto) on Saturday, February 9, 2019 for "The Munsters Launch Party". 

Phase 16:  Tournament Tilt Matching

Some of the biggest excitement I get from people is the ability to match the tilt settings from one machine to the next.  We've all seen it before ... You go to a tournament with 8 identical machines, yet everyone only plays on machine number 3 because the tilt settings are much looser.  The same goes for comparing the ability of someone playing in New York versus someone playing in Sydney.  How can we accurately compare the abilities of the players if the tilt is set tighter in one location versus the other?  You can't ... until now.

Matching the tilt settings from one location/machine to the next ensures that everyone is held to the same standard.  This way, player rankings can more accurately reflect the players true abilities as opposed to getting an artificially high score by playing on a loose machine.

Phase 17:  Tournaments and the Waiting Game

In addition to matching tilt parameters for machines around the world, I've added the ability to remotely zero the tilt bob.  (As I typed the last sentence I heard a thousand pinheads say 'Thank You')

Why?  There are some players who will wait 1~2 minutes after the previous player before they start their ball.  The reason being is that they are waiting for the tilt bob to settle first.  If you've ever been in this situation then you know how this disrupts the flow of the game ... and if you've ever run a tournament then you know how much extra time this can add to your day.

I've got a few ideas on how to implement this automatically and will eventually incorporate it into the electronics, but for the time being, a simple click of a web-page zeros the tilt bob.

No more waiting between players ... amazing.

Phase 18:  Building A Better Mouse Trap

Prototypes are meant as a stepping stone to get you to the final product.  As stated earlier, user feedback has driven improvements and will continue to drive improvements in the future.

One of the biggest improvements by far, is the ability for the user to modify the javascript/html/css interface to their liking and SAVE IT TO THE DEVICE.  Perhaps you prefer a green background or different button styles or even a nicer simulation of the tilt bob's movement ... now you can do it.  I leave this customization to the creativity of the community.

Other improvements I'm currently working on or thinking about:
 - shrinking the board size (will be done before first sale)
 - porting to a 32 bit processor
 - central server configuration/setup
 - auto tilt bob zeroing between players
 - integration with streaming video to show tilt bob position
 - using your smartphone's NFC as a means to zero the tilt bob

Phase 19:  Kick It

I'm at the point where proof of concept has proven itself, initial prototypes have yielded positive results and the feedback from others has been extremely encouraging.  There's not much left except to take it to the next level.

Production of the first saleable units will begin shortly however, I'd like to gauge the real interest level.  I have a targeted retail price of $99 USD, with discounts for bulk purchases.

Those people interested in acquiring a unit for purchase can post their intent in the comments section or contact me at:  electronictilt (_at_)

To Be Continued ... 

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