Researching PHysical Play experiences while Designing a modular elecTrOnic toy.
Project Overview
This project was a sponsored class that was designed to work with metal finishing and creat a project that apply anodizing and other forms of metal works. It was a completely open ended project, so I decided to think outside the box and create something different. The project was sponsored by the Metal Finishing Association of Southern California.

My goal with the project was to develop an interactive modular toy that applies metal finishing techniques in innovative ways while developing new designs in the toy industry for STEM learning in fun and engaging ways.
WHy electronic toy?
Before I began work on the project, I was already inspired to create a modular toy that uses electronics and sensors for an enhanced play and building experience.

With the use of metal finishing applications and techniques, I got excited to create something new within the toy industry. Metal is often not the primary choice of material within toy design, and that was an exciting challenge to design for.
The project was mainly designed and built with Solidworks and Arduino, as well as some design tools such as Sketch and Photoshop.
1st place AWARD
This project won first place scholarship award in this class from the Metal Finishing Association of Southern California.
The first stage of the project was to understand and research metal finishing techniques and how anodization works. During the project, I got the opportunity to visit several places that works with metal finishing. The research continued with looking at existing toys that are built and designed for building with electronics.

There were several examples and projects that inspired me to do something different with my approach for an electronic toys.
After the initial research, I spend a few weeks coming up with small prototypes that explored different modular parts and techniques. Working with electronics, I tried to develop simple way to make connections that are reliable and simple.

I spent a significant amount of time on play testing sdifferent sizes and forms to figure out what would be the most ideal design approach for the product.
end result
During the development of the project, several problems and difficulties came up that were completely unexpected. Trying to apply metal parts to a toy design was especially complicated.

Designing components with electronics created problems with size, reliability, and safety.
focusing on quick assembly and exciting gameplay.
The product was designed to be a modular and customizable electronic toy that allows kids to build their own futuristic toys with a wide range of functions and features. Creating new connections and unique vehicles or other objects will unlock new features and ways to play.
developing and prototyping master unit & controller.
One of the main component of the project was a "master unit" that housed the battery and boards. This was a challenging taks do the the small size of the component. During the prototyping process, I explored different ideas and additional components such as sensors that could elevate and enhance the play experience. However, the final design only housed the batter and necessary electronics.
exploring optical sensors for enhanced gameplay.
One iterations of this unit was to add cameras and optical sensors that could help with the play experience. Early on in the project I entertained ideas that could elevate this component to be a core element of the user experience.

However, do to some privacy concerns, this feature was not seriously pursued beyond initial iterations and exploration.
utalizign modular connectors for master unit.
This module was designed to house one of the modular connectors to make sure that it can always be connected to at leas one other component. Early iterations required a connector unit to be placed inside this unit, but that solution not only limited the internal space available for components and battery, but also required to user to have one connector unit available at all times.
adding simple power control and micro usb i/o.
It was important to add power controls and switches for safety and longlivety. At the same time, a micro Usb connector was added to the back of the unit to enable charging as well as possible data transfer to the board if needed. This feature was designed for the idea where the toy could be programmed to behave differently.
prototyping modularity all around, starting with the unit connectors.
One of the core component of this project was the modular connectors. This perhaps took the longest time to prototype and build. While it seems like a small component, it had a significant impact on the design of the product as well as the over play experience. These connectors needed to be safe, secure, and simple enough to combine and attach to other pieces. To ensure a smooth and fun play experience, I went through a number of connector prototypes before landing on a final design approach.
how does the modular connectors work?

Modular connectors are designed to be as simple as possible. Each connector is designed to make sure that there is no wrong way to connect the units and complete the circuit. The pins were mirrored in order to allow both directions to connect safely and securely.
how does each unit interlocks with one another?
These modular connectors needed to have a secure, but simple way of connectivity. One of the final designs and iterations used a "butterfly" locking mechanism which allows the units to connect and securely hold the component together. It was a long iterative prototyping process to make sure that these components are well designed and built.
designing a simple and universal unit collar.
While this seems like a small and perhaps not as exciting component, this was a crucial element of each modular unit. This collar made it possible for components to be connected with on another. Making sure that this component is well designed was perhaps one of the most important part of the design process and project.
anodized aluminum shields DESIGNED for the core play experience.
Since anodizing was a core requirement for this project, these shields were designed to create a unique gameplay experience combined with the modular units. There is a wide variety of colors and type of anodized parts to ensure a large variety of possibilities and combinations. Each color and form represent a unique gameplay element and equips the toy with special abilities such as power, speed or toughness. The combination of these shield creates almost "endless" possibilities for each creation.
color coded shields to represent unique abilities and features.
While colors and different finishes gave unique appearance to each creation, they also acted as core gameplay elements. Each color represented a play feature that would be used to determine how powerful or equipped a toy is. For example, if one equips their toy with only power shields, while they would be more "powerful" than other units, they would be defenseless against incoming attacks. These elements and rules gave an exciting combinations and strategy on how to create a toy to play against or with others.
experimenting with material finishes, forms, and features.
A large number of shield designs and prototypes were created to explore different finishes, forms, and design features to further enhance the visual and play value of the toy. At the same time, these shields also acted as tradeable components that kids could collect and exchange with one another. Trading with these unique and "valuable" shields became another interesting aspect of the project and overall experience.
Hover over image to look inside.
how does each unit connects WITH the shields?
Each and every component was designed in parallel with the modular shields. It was crucial to make sure that these shields are easily attachable, and removable. To achieve this, small magnets were built into the shield and modular components to hold these parts in place, and create a safe and "secure" connection. This solution also solved the problem of possible injury and component damage. If the unit is dropped or hit, the shields would just falls of without serious damage or injury to the user.
experiementing with interactive components and elements.
As an interaction designer, product interactivity was an important factor and design requirement for this project. While prototyping components and electronics, I created several interactive element that are further enhance the product and play experience.

One of these interactive components was a small "laser gun" that used a button and a small LED that lit up when the "trigger" was pressed. Later versions also explored the possibilities of adding sound effects and haptic feedback.
Hover over image to interact.
A WIDE variety of unique combinations and possibilities.
I spent a great amount of time thinking about the design of each individual part and to make sure that it is compatible with other components. It was especially important to make the combinations of these parts exciting and rewarding. There is a wide variety of objects and creations that can be built starting from robots, vehicles, spaceships and other interactive creations.
experimenting with early ideas, forms, and modular connections.
At the initial state of the project, I developed several smaller prototypes using materials such as wood, paper, and plastic. These prototypes were built to experiment with ideas and different form of modular connectivity. This exploration process gave valuable insight and inspirations for future development. The main objective of this process was to explore ways in which modular components work together in a unified design system. At the same time, this early prototyping allowed me to "test" and collect feedback on ideas and components to further validate concepts.
These images show early prototypes crated and designed to test and experiment with connections, components, and ways to build.
reserching and Testing Designs and play experiences.
A significant amount of time was spent with researching play experiences, the size of the product, and other important ideas that needed to be validated through play testing. Small paper and  plastic prototypes gave significant insights into the product and user experience. These insights were extremely valuable in order to make the toy more interesting and exciting as well as how to approach future designs and components.
Playtesting simple shapes and initial components to understand user experience, component forms and sizes.
designing and engineering components.
Engineering the components with "manufacturing" in mind was a long and often complicated process. Every unit and component needed to be designed from the ground up, while making sure that they followed the same design language as well a modular system. During this process, I tried to make sure that every component was broken down into smaller, more modular elements in order to further enhance product modularity.

From early sketches and explorations, to CAD engineering and designs, the product was built systematically while following a iterative design process. Throughout this process, a significant amount of time was spent with internal details, tolerances, and assembly steps in order to make sure that the product is well thought through form inside and out.
Steps during the design process form ideas and sketching trough component engineering to final designs and building.
prototyping physical components and electronics.
Building and prototyping the electronics was one of the most exciting part of the project. I created a number of prototypes which explored different connections and electronic components such as LEDs, speakers, and buttons. Making the components interactive was a key element of the product. A number of component were 3D printed and tested and assembled before the final forms and functionality were finalized.
3D Printing, building and prototyping components, electronics, and modular connections.
How the metal components and shields are being manufactured.
While prototyping the metal components for this project, I spent a significant amount of time on developing strategies and manufacturing steps in which the shields could be efficiently created. I had to understand how to build these components in a simple and reliable way. I explored several different versions of shields and created a number of anodized parts and components as well as multiple different manufacturing processes.
Prototyping process on how to get shield components manufactured.
Cutting, forming, finishing and assembling shield prototypes.
what are the things that went wrong during this process?
The initial idea of the project was completely changed after several iterations. The early prototypes were a great start for building more complicated mechanics and electrical solutions.

One of the most complicated tasks was to make sure that the electronics fit inside the body of each piece. This caused a lot of problems and constant rework for individual parts and components. I had to make sure that off-shelf components fit inside the housing of each unit (this often caused changes and rework in a number of components).

Since there was a lot of custom parts and designs, once I made a small change to the connectors, some parts needed to be completely redesigned due to scale changes or other more complicated internal changes.

Printing the parts and assembling them together into a functioning prototype was also a very complicated and time consuming task. Limitations of 3D printing often caused problems with tolerances and functionality that required frequent design changes and re-printing.