Core Electronics

Core Electronics showcase how they used the iSTEM engineering design process to create a name badge that can also be used to play rock, paper, scissors.

In this case study, Core Electronics demonstrate the use of the NSW Department of Education’s iSTEM engineering design process that was used in the development of an interactive game incorporated into a conference badge. This video is a perfect resource to be used for the iSTEM Department Approved Elective or any course in which students are expected to solve complex problems. The accompanying iSTEM engineering design process poster shows the 8 phases also known as ‘the cogs’ that make up the process and is a great resource to hang up in a Technology classroom. On the departments iSTEM website you can also download the handy guide which breaks down the different phases into key questions and possible activities.

Watch 'STEM 2022 Core Electronics' (10:07)

Michael Ruppe – Core Electronics

(Duration: 10 minutes 7 seconds)


[Red and blue logo revealed reading ‘STEM 2022 On demand’.

Screen reads, iSTEM Process, and underneath it reads, A Case Study of Core Electronics: STEM2022 Conference Badges.

Michael (Product design engineer):

The STEM 2022, Conference brought together experts in STEM, with innovators and educators.

Video shows, various images of the conference.]

We were asked by the event coordinators, to create a name badge that features, an interactive game, to be played amongst conference goers, as an icebreaker.

This badge plays rock, paper, scissors. Use the buttons on the back, to select the move you want to make, rock, paper, or scissors, and your badge will communicate, with your opponents with some infrared hardware, on the front.

[Video shows Michael displaying the back of the device. Michael points to the small button game controls, on the right-side and next to each control, is a hand gesture rock, paper, and scissors. Michael demonstrates how mall LED lights illuminate to indicate win/loss and a ‘score’ using binary coding.]

The badges negotiate who won, displays the result with some LEDs, and also displays your current win count in binary. The point of the badge is, to help conference guests to meet each other, by making opening interactions fun and easy.

The design of the badge itself, also hires the core disciplines of STEM, drawing upon each to produce a single effective solution. We can use this project as a case study, for the iSTEM engineering design process.

[Animation plays showing the design of the badge as an electrical and circuit diagram

[Screen shows a picture of the iSTEM process, in the centre it reads, iSTEM Process, with a right arrow above this, and left arrow below, and going around in a circle clockwise, is 8 cogs, 1. Define, 2. Identify, 3. Brainstorm, 4. Design, 5. Prototype, 6. Evaluate, 7. Iterate, 8. Communicate.

[Screen reads 1. Define, displayed on the screen.]

Networking is a key component, of professional conferences. Helping people to feel comfortable and confident in making new connections, is one of the ingredients to a successful event.

Social anxiety is pretty common, and I'm sure that it can be related, to by most peoples.

Whether it's in a professional or personal situation, having a helping hand to make connections, like a common interest, goal, or a game can motivate taking the first step and diving into a conversation.

We were pretty sure that from the outset, the name badges would be a functional printed circuit board, and electronic device.

That's one of the things we are known for and are good at. Now, this problem concerns a couple of parties.

There is, the conference organisers, as the success of their conference can be greatly impacted by the quality of connections, made by those in attendance. And there are the conference attendees, their enjoyment of the day could be affected by, the efficacy of this icebreaking name badge.

We've worked on some projects with the event organisers before, so they have a pretty good idea of our capability, and both parties were confident, we could find a solution.

To arrive at a solution though, we had to go through the engineering design process.

So, let's start with defining success.

We were fortunate enough, to also attend the conference, so we knew we would be able to observe firsthand, users’ experiences with the name badges.

[Video shows, 2 people using their name badges, smiling and engaged, Signs of success, for us include a high number of game interactions, and positive user experience and user sentiment.

So really, the game works, and users understand the game, and find it easy to play.

[Video reads: 2. Identify.]

We made sure to have a good understanding, of the constraints, before getting started.

Since this badge hangs around the neck of an attendee, we obviously can't make the badge arbitrarily large, to fit whatever we want on it. It needs to remain roughly the same size, as a standard lanyard badge or access key.

The game, ought to be playable at a distance. While we might be coming out the other side of a global pandemic, it's best if we remain sensitive to that, and facilitate social distancing with a game that can be played wirelessly, out to, a couple of metres.

The game ought to be picked up and played quickly, by a few hundred people. So, it needs to be relatively simple, or better yet be an existing game, that most people are already familiar with.

As for the skills available, our technical team has a really diverse professional experience, all the way from avionics to process and radio engineering.

So, off the bat, we ought to have enough skills and knowledge in house, to get it done.

Now the conference represents, a hard deadline that we have to adhere to. So, we stayed on track, by setting milestones and working backwards, from those delivery dates.

Things like artwork tests, and electronic and functional prototypes.

We're going to need all our tools, for this one. We'll be designing some kind of circuit, so of course, we'll use our favourite, PCB design software.

[Video shows, a prototype and circuit as seen on PCB software.]

And for assembly, our manufacturing capabilities in house include, a 10-metre automated electronics production line, that can apply solder, place surface mount components, and reflow the boards.

We also have access to 2 soldering robots, for through-hole assembly, a laser cutter, and 3D printer.

And it took every one of these machines, to make, this project happen.

As for aesthetic and ergonomic considerations, it's necessary for the design to look great, because it's going to be worn by hundreds of people, and it's going to represent the values of the conference.

We also need to balance, the need for the badge to explain, how it functions to the user.

As this product will be quite novel, its functionality needs to be intuitive to the user, and artwork will help out a lot here.

[Screen reads: 3. Brainstorm.]

We applied, classic group brainstorming, to generate ideas. When we do this, we're careful to focus on why a candidate idea might work, rather than might not work.

You know when you're throwing ideas around, and it's tending to drill right down and explore each idea, in a really technical way, you can waste a lot of time and energy, exploring solutions for problems that don't even exist yet.

Focusing on the positives, also means that you can pull more out of each idea without, discarding them too early on.

Electronic conference badges are popular for large tech conferences, so we also had a look, at what else was at there.

Drawing inspiration from art styles and techniques, how badges might communicate with each other, and what's even feasible with the available hardware.

[Video screen shows, different art styles and techniques]

We were throwing around, ideas like a laser tag system, or even some kind of collaborative art project, using wireless electronics.

[Screen reads, 4. Design.]

Once we landed on a few candidate solutions, we chose the best based on what we thought would deliver, the most intuitive user experience.

And that was a game of rock, paper, scissors that includes some scorekeeping. With relatively simple game logic, the challenge here, is having potentially many badges, playing many games, all at the same time.

This is a real communications and protocol, design problem.

A challenge certainly, but within our skillset. We know we've got the tools to do it, and the electronic components were all chosen from abundant parts.

Now, since this is all for a STEM Conference, we wanted to show how the badge itself, relies on each aspect of STEM.

For science, we have the electromagnetic spectrum.

These badges communicate with invisible infrared light, which is a narrow slice of the spectrum. Infrared light is emitted by one component and received by another.

Technology, we have the communications protocol, that we have to implement, so that these badges can talk to each other as well as, the assembly technology required.

[Video shows, the assembly line.]

Engineering we have designed for manufacturer, the systems and processes we have to put in place, so that we can assemble such a board.

And for mathematics, we have the binary scoring system.

It's only appropriate that an electronic game playing conference badge, represents its score in binary, a base 2 number system, and really the language of the information age.

[Screen reads: 5. Prototype.]

We assembled a physical test, to make sure that we could place all of these components, and this also included an artwork test, so that we can see what colours are even possible to create, on a printed circuit board.

We produced this very early because, it's a low-cost test and would inform later design iterations. Our next prototype fix, some circuit bugs, and this is the model that we began developing the functional firmware on.

[Screen shows prototypes of badges]

There are a few bugs still, so you can see there's a few, test wires in the mix.

[Screen reads: 6. Evaluate.]

From the first to second prototype, we decided on, a gold black colours scheme.

And after playing a few games in the lab, we decided to remove this buzzer because it would actually be pretty annoying, to have 500 buzzers going off at a conference.

We conducted some play testing, with other members of the team, to see how somebody tries to use the badge, on their very first go.

[Video plays, showing 2 people testing and close ups of badge components as they play.].

We're going for a pleasant and unconfusing, user experience.

If this criteria, is met, then it's implied the firmware functions reliably, and the product self-documents, well enough to be understood, by a conference goer.

So that includes accurate scorekeeping, robust game logic, and good power management.

[Screen reads: 7. Iterate.]

The engineer in design process, is not completely linear.

To iterate a design often means going back to earlier stages, with data acquired during the evaluation stage.

[Screen shows a picture, of the iSTEM process]

These final prototypes, represent the MVP and the final design, used in production.

And at each stage, we refined the artwork, fixed, or included additional features.

We decided to include power management, so that we can deliver the badges with the batteries, already installed.

And you can still see, there's some external wiring from when we were conducting some life cycle testing.

Part of this, iterative process, includes design for manufacture, things like programming machines and creating custom tooling, necessary for the assembly of these devices.

[Screen reads: 8. Communicate.]

And the badges were, a hit at the conference.

[Screen shows images of conference with people using the badge.]

We were even able to share how each STEM discipline contributed, to a successful component, of the final design.

This first production of the badge represents a substantial market test.

We were able to turn up to the conference, with a crate full of badges, have 500 people play games against each other, all day, with really positive results.

And since there's growing demand for interactivity and novelty in the convention scene, the engine that drives this badge can be re-implemented, in other projects too.

And that's the engineering design process, behind the STEM 2022 Conference badge, made by makers at Core Electronics.

[Screen shows Core Electronics logo and NSW Government logo.]

[End of transcript]

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