PacSci Perspectives


Tinkering Through The Process Of Science

by | Jan 11, 2018

Tinker Tank AR Wind Table

At Pacific Science Center, we’re all about modeling science as a process. In fact, it’s one of our guiding principles. We aim to show that science is a boundless and timeless process of inquiry, discovery and problem solving. When you visit, we hope you’ll ask questions and experiment with us. If you’re not sure where to start, check out Tinker Tank: a hands-on space where we provide you all the materials you need to test and design endless creations. Our Tinker Tank team has been experimenting themselves, and we hope you’ll enjoy what they came up with.

We design activities to be open-ended so you can explore and create towards different challenges. Some of those activities rotate daily, but others are permanent, like the wind table. It’s a fairly simple idea: a fan points upwards and you build different shapes with paper too see how they fly. Have you tried your hand at making something that can spin?

When we first opened Tinker Tank over five years ago, the wind table was a rotating activity. It was the first thing that was built for Tinker Tank, and was built to be out for long stretches of time without much maintenance. As we used the wind table more we found ourselves wanting to tinker. We wanted to find new ways to offer challenges and layers that encourage guests to brainstorm ideas and come back to test them. But how do you tinker with something built extraordinarily sturdily? Answer: augmented reality!

What is Reality is our newest experience you can find on our campus; we’re bringing in various technology startups and activities for guests to interact with. As part of this program, we met with Puyallup-based Kaio Interactive to brainstorm about which activity would be the best candidate for introducing guests to AR. We quickly landed on the wind table. We wanted to keep the original experience so guests can continue to interact with the wind table as they always have, but also get them excited in a new way with a new challenge.

Kaio Interactive designed a system that tracks your paper creations and uses it to control a game on a screen. On the screen you will see a rocket ship and some rings in space. The rocket ship moves as your paper does and you get points for passing through the rings. Then, there was a new challenge.

For this design to work, both the Science Center and Kaio Interactive had to work together to test, modify, and re-test. We used a camera that can track things in space by projecting infrared lasers and using an infrared camera to track where it lands. But how could we make sure this camera only captures the paper and nothing else? We had to tinker with the code. Just as our guests make small design changes to their paper creation to get the best flight pattern, Kaio Interactive had to design a solution that ignored everything in front of, behind, and beside the wind table. The first time it worked no problem. The second iterating, no such luck. But, as we do in Tinker Tank, Kaio Interactive figured out what went wrong and how to fix it.

So there you have it: science is a process, and you can see its products all over the Science Center. Now that AR has been added to the wind table, we hope you’ll experiment and see how you like it. Are you more focused on the original idea of the wind table, to get paper to fly, or do you enjoy the challenge of getting your “spaceship” through hoops and earning points? Just by testing it out, you too can model science as a process.