Not knowing a heck of a lot about solenoids in practice — I know what they do, and, as an example of the sometimes impracticality of higher-ed, am fairly fluent in the E&M principles at work here. But, when it comes to the practical matter of finding one with the necessary “umph” to articulate a simple controller’s buttons, it’s all guess work.

(Parenthetically, this mechanism is a subcomponent of a larger project called “Air Guitar Hero” which uses a remote glove controller to articulate the solenoids here. Yes. It makes no practical sense. It points to “something” as an experiment, if nothing more than to learn a few things about controlling solenoids and such all. But, mostly it is a design provocation. That’d be the easiest way of describing this whole thing, for those who have asked.)

The first solenoids I used were the smallish ones on top, bought at close-out prices from Electronics Goldmine for about $2 a piece. They couldn’t push the button completely, nor with the surety of purpose the design demanded. They would actuate, but not push the button closed. The best they could do was kind of rattling things around a bit.

Not really knowing precisely how to “engineer” a solution (probably something about determining the closing force of the switch and back-stepping to an appropriate solenoid), I just bought a few different sizes. The first one to arrive was enormous and, had I been a bit more careful, I would’ve realized that the centerline to centerline spacing of a row of four of these would’ve been wider than the center to center distance between the Guitar Hero buttons. Poppa Bear is a Guardian Electric TP12X19-I-24D, push style solenoid, runs at 24 volts. Way too big. So..that one is now a paperweight on my desk.

(Here’s a link to Guardian Electric that has specifications on their other tubular push/pull solenoids.)

The other two were closer, and I ended up using the “Momma Bear” solenoid — a Guardian Electric TP6X12-I-24D, also push style, with a load force of 18-0.06/2.5-0.75 Ounce-Inch. The data sheet is here.

I’m running all of these at 12 volts, which makes them less umph-y, but sufficient for what I’m doing. The solenoids have more push force at the low end of teir travel, so I designed the little supporting bridge there to hold the articulating shaft right on top of the controller button so that most of the force would be committed to pushing the button and not traveling through space.

Speaking of scale, on the left there is the breadboard prototype circuit to drive five solenoids. The right is the PCB with the same circuit (minus a bunch of Arduino icing, just a plain vanilla Atmega168 and crystal). Scaled down, the circuit is much easier to manage and cart around than the relatively fragile breadboard edition, especially cause I’m using janky, untrimmed jumpers to make connections and so forth.

For the curious, here’s the circuit’s schematic and the PCB layout pictures.

Post-Optimal Design


John Marshall over at Designed Objects has ben teaching a studio design course he titles “Post-Optimal Objects” with the convenient acronym POO. These are projects that are exploratory and self-critical in a sense. They skirt between what Marshall says is fine art and design so as to address approaches for developing the aesthetic and critical possibilities of objects outside a commercial context.

Some of the projects are fascinating probes that are by mandate critical and playful and skirt away from, as the title of the studio suggests, post-optimal contexts. This is resonant for me because it can be a challenge to steer away from expected rational and conservative forms of design. That is, things that are already commercially viable because they resonate with existing consumer expectations. But, as François has recently described, consumerism is only a small and very intriguing step away from cannibalism.

I often get flustered and frustrated with questions about ideas or project concepts that are not “products” in the sense of the commercial marketplace. People will ask — “well..why do you do this? No one would buy this!”

Of course, this is maybe true, but likely not the case at all. (Strictly speaking, someone would, odds say.) In any case, what Marshall is doing around this notion of post-optimal is teasing what is at the core of my frustration which is that any new, innovative idea is a bad idea because the world is already optimized for itself. The marketplace of ideas and their expression in standard form (as products to be sold, or services to be offered and profit to be found in a margin between price and cost) defines the constraints and requirements of what can play in that ecosystem, and it does so with such effectivity and narrowness that it is perfectly optimized. Things cannot enter into that ecosystem without having met these constraints and requirements. And, moreover, even conversations that skirt outside of the idioms of this self-optimal system are looked at oddly. People ask — why would you do this, as pertains a completely post-optimal idea, and they really mean it. They can find no answer because they search for the answer within the framework of the self-optimal system.

When Nicolas and I discussed the Near Future Laboratory’s motivation and premise a couple of years ago, it was also, among other things, to be a place that explored possibilities that were outside of existing self-optimal frameworks. This is why I sometimes refer to it as a kind of science-fiction authoring practice, but with forms expressed in materialized ideas as well as writing. A different kind of authoring practice. The reason for this was to have a way of justifying “why” such odd things (such as this “(Air) Guitar Hero” device in the image above) are constructed. Science-fiction offers a safe haven for probing other possible ideas that are entirely speculative and imaginative. They are probes into other possible “systems” of social practice. Things beyond convention, beyond conservative, business-centric notions of what ideas are good for.


From John Marshall’s studio course (ArtDes 300.015) Post-Optimal Objects (POO) Beard Guards to prevent messes whilst eating

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