Though the concept for my interactive basketball hoop project is quite simple, the most frustrating part was building the actual unit. The finished product has four main components:
1. The computer and MakeyMakey: the brains of the product.
2. The stand: a small box my vacuum cleaner came in. The backboard hangs from the top of the box, and houses and protects the MakeyMakey and some of the wiring. I also placed a bunch of heavy books in it to weigh it down and keep it stable.
3. The backboard, hoop, and ball: I purchased these as a set from Amazon and attached a bottomless plastic contained to the rim to funnel the ball so that it goes straight down; and,
4. The landing ramp: which consists of a small box top to which I embedded two arcade buttons, and used a cardboard paper towel tube as a beam so that it would hang from an angle.
By far the landing ramp was the most difficult component to create and went through a few incarnations before I designed the most optimal model. My first idea was to embed the arcade buttons in a piece of foam core measuring approximately 3″ by 5″. This was difficult to use from the get-go because I could not figure out an effective way to bind it to the stand at an angle, and sometimes the ball would miss the ramp completely because it was too short.
My next idea was to create a sort of landing pad on the floor. For this I used an 11″ x 8 1/2″ x 2″ box made of strong cardboard and embedded the buttons on top of the box and simply laid it on the floor. This was more problematic because the landing pad was further from the base of the funnel giving the ball more time to go off course and miss the button. I also found that the box itself was too flexible so when the ball did make contact with a button, sometimes the button wouldn’t be pressed because the box could not provide enough resistance to the force of the ball coming down onto it. I also found that, occasionally, the ball would bounce too much on the box and push the button twice, or push both buttons. This was frustrating, and at that point, my wife told me to take a break for the rest of that particular night.
In the end, I decided to combine my first two ideas. I cut the top off the box, leaving the front and side flaps intact. I attached the back of the box top to the stand using cable ties. I took the cardboard roll from a roll of paper towels and bound one end to the front flap of the box top and the stand, again, using cable ties. The cardboard roll serves as a beam for the landing ramp, maintaining its angle, and helps reduce some of the flexibility issues previously discussed.
I did my final experiment and I made 100 shots sitting from about four feet away. The hoop stands about a foot and a half off the ground. Of the 100 made shots, the buttons were set off 82 times, and only one shot bounced on the button twice, double counting the point (I only counted that as 1). The design still is not perfect. I have found that when the ball goes straight through the hoop from an angle, it is less likely to hit a button than a ball that bounces or rattles through. Sometimes the ball will hit in between the buttons when it goes straight in. I was also found that sometime the ball just did not hit the button accurately enough to push it. Ultimately, what I needed was a larger button. One that was four inches in diameter would have been more helpful and would have led to more accurate scoring.
Going through the process of creating this basketball hoop, I came to appreciate the workmanship and ingenuity that go into creating arcade games like whack-a-mole, skee ball, and pinball. The unfortunate thing is that we don’t often associate “workmanship” and “ingenuity” with these kinds of games. I don’t exactly know why. Perhaps its because of their slow-but-inevitable obsolescence with the advent of home video game systems like XBox and Playstation 4, superior technology. It could also be that they’re associated with the waste of time and money with visions of children popping quarters to best the current high score. Putting aside the ethics of profiting off childhood game addiction (which is still very much an issue today), the creators of these games deserve recognition for the work that they have done. Creating my basketball hoop was challenging, and took many hours to conceptualize and build, and it’s still not working properly. I don’t know that I am inspired by their work because, ultimately, these games do little to improve the overall quality of life of their communities, but I do appreciate the technology and creativity that has gone into them, and let’s face it, they’re freaking fun.