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Eltham Centre Display 2012

Report by Tim Surtell

The Eltham Centre is a relatively new building situated just off Eltham High Street. Among its many facilities are a library, leisure centre, café, and Greenwich Council's offices, so it is well patronised.

Just inside the entrance to the Centre, opposite the café, there is a display cabinet set into the wall, complete with lighting, power and even an internet connection. The cabinet is generally used by local artists to promote their work, or for displays relating to special events such as the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The main entrance to the Eltham Centre
The main entrance to the Eltham Centre

The display cabinet (left)
The display cabinet (left)

Earlier in the year I approached the Centre to enquire if we could install a display inside the cabinet with a view to promoting the club and our Meccano Show. Trevor Taylor, the Facilities and Marketing Manager, was very enthusiastic about the idea and a date was soon set for the installation — 10th September, the Monday after our September meeting.

The call went out via email and SELMEC News for members to loan models for the display. There was an excellent response and I had more than enough models to choose from. After consideration of space and power requirements, the models eventually chosen were:

In addition to the models, there were also two posters, one introducing the club, the other plugging our Meccano Show, plus a video screen showing our Meccano Show trailer.

The display cabinet filled with Meccano goodness
The display cabinet filled with Meccano goodness

Touch here to be amazed!

Touch here to be amazed!

The display needed to be able to run unattended and be switched off automatically when the Centre was closed. To achieve this I created a custom control system based around an Atmel microcontroller running Arduino software. The system can control up to six models, including motor speeds, and allows them to run for a configurable period of time, once a member of the public has set them in motion via a touch sensor placed inside the cabinet behind the glass. The power to the system and the video screen was then controlled by a mains timer programmed to switch on during the Centre's opening hours.

The Arduino-based control system

The Arduino-based control system

On 10th September Ralph Laughton and I arrived at the Centre to find Chris Warrell waiting for us with his models. The cabinet had been cleared earlier that day, so we set about arranging everything, then once the cabinet was locked we retired to the café to observe the public's reaction!

Over the coming weeks Ralph, Chris, Adrian and I looked in regularly to check everything was working as expected. On Tuesday I found Les's energetic beam engine has almost 'walked' itself off the glass shelf, so it was securely taped down. A week later the band driving Adrian's carousel snapped and had to be replaced. Other than that, the models performed flawlessly.

As the display was due to be removed at the end of September, leaving two weeks to go until our Meccano Show, I had also arranged to run a stand in the Centre during that time. On Saturday 29th September, Thursday 4th October and Tuesday 9th October I displayed my 'Lightning Leap' buzz-wire game which enticed lots of 'wow's and 'cool's from the many schoolchildren who filed past on their way to swimming lessons!

Children playing the Lightning Leap game
Children playing the Lightning Leap game

The staff at the Centre were very pleased with the display and would welcome another display at some point, perhaps in February or March. If you have a model you would like to display, please let me or Chris know.

» This article appeared in the January 2013 issue of SELMEC News.

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