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A Nessie Surprise

Introduction to Physical Computing 60-223

Professor: Robert Zacharias | Fall 2018


Our task was to make something surprising, preferably in a delightful way using an Arduino that took in one input and produced at least one output as a result.


Rolando Garcia



LED lights

Servo Motor

Laser Cutter

3D Printer

Soldering Iron

With such an open ended prompt, we decided early on to make a useless machine, my favorite example being this fox. This decision was due to, in part, the delightful nature of useless machines that manage to give personalities to otherwise simple creatures, as well as our limited physical computing experience since this was our first project for the course. After brainstorming some character ideas, we settled on the Loch Ness Monster on account of her infamy and simple form. 

Early Sketches

The input being received from the arduino was the position of a slider that the 3D printed boat was mounted onto. Depending how close the boat got to Nessie, she would react differently to the "threat." We gave her the ability to move using two servos attached to the base of the box, one controlling her head and the other controlling her body. In reality, both parts of Nessie had red LED eyes and a head but only one head would be visible above the water at any given time. This resulted in giving her the appearance of moving through the water like a snake before stopping before the boat. 
Our original intention was the Nessie would be able to move the boat back similar to other useless machines out there but due to the limitations on the servo and their motion being circular instead of linear, we decided to focus on just having her reacting. Similarly, we originally had the idea of a piece of white acrylic underneath the waves parting so Nessie is obscured from viewers until she "attacks"  but due to space constraints inside the box/fear of making the project too complicated with only two weeks to complete it, we chose to scrap that as well. 

Nessie's heads following assembly, held in place by wooden lasercut support

Nessie's target is a 3D printed boat attached onto a sliding switch 

Attaching the servo motors to the base of the box and testing range of motion once the boat was in place

Attaching waves to form the surface of the water from an angled perspective 


Schematic Drawing


Depending on how far the boat moved, Nessie reacts differently to the threat. While the final design does allow a look into the mechanics of the system, we chose to keep it open for easy replacements/repairs. Being the first project in this course, there were practical reasons behind prioritizing accessibility but from the intended angles, the waves come together to form the surface of the water.
Project Narrative
Traveling across the lake, you peer at the tranquil waters surrounding you. Despite searching for some fabled monster for days, there's been no sign of it. At this point you're tempted to turn around, maybe admitting defeat would be easier than this mind-numbing abyss of  boredom. Just as you sigh and prepare to hang your head and return home, there's a motion in the water. Subtle, so subtle you're convinced you're seeing things. Was that just the sun reflecting off the water? Is it paranoia or is everything a little too quiet? 
Suddenly something murky peeps out of the water. It blends in so well you're not sure if it's just a figment of your imagination - except for the pair of red eyes staring directly at you. You move to turn the boat just as this creature looms above the water's edge, staring at this strange toy. This intruder in it's home. Moving with the speed of prey scrambling to escape, the boat whips around and you push the engine to its limit.
Looking over your shoulder, you see it slowly sink back into the water as the ripples from where you once were fade away. You shutter at the thought of what would have happened if you kept moving forward. Would it have attacked? Would it have called for backup? All you know for sure is you've definitely got a story for your mates now. After all, you did just get a surprise visit from the Loch Ness Monster.
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