Dance Mania: Build Your Own Dance Pad!
|Time Required||Long (2-4 weeks)|
|Material Availability||Readily available|
|Cost||Average ($50 - $100)|
AbstractIt's fun to host and attend parties. You can meet your friends, watch movies, and eat party food. Another thing that people like to do at parties is dance to music. Dancing is great exercise and just makes people happy. What if at the next party you attend, you could do your science fair project? Doesn't sound like a good idea? Well, in this electricity and electronics science fair project, you will make a dance pad that flashes lights when you step on it. Have your friends test it out for you. If you use colored lights, you could be the hit of the next party!
ObjectiveThe objective of this electricity and electronics science fair project is to build a dance pad that flashes lights when you step on it.
Michelle Maranowski, PhD, Science Buddies
This project is based on the video at Design Squad PBS: WGBH Educational Foundation. (2008). Design Squad: Bodies Electric. Retrieved October 21, 2015, from http://pbskids.org/designsquad/video/bodies-electric/
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Last edit date: 2018-03-24
Have you ever been to your local game arcade and seen the variety of games? There are lots of different kinds of games to play. There's skee ball, video games, and dancing games, like Dance Dance Revolution®. The Dance Dance Revolution arcade game is made up of a platform and a computer monitor or screen. The platform is separated into two sub-panels and each sub-panel has four arrows, one each pointing north, south, east, and west. When you play the game, arrows scroll down the screen and you hop on corresponding arrows on the platform. As you hop and move from arrow to arrow on the platform, you end up dancing! It's that simple! There is a version of Dance Dance Revolution that you can purchase to play at home, too.
But how does this game work? How does the platform know that you have stepped on the correct arrow and how does it light up? The answer is that there is an electric circuit under each arrow on the platform that senses when you step on it and sends a signal to the computer and lights up. What is an electric circuit? An electric circuit is simply a closed loop through which electricity can continuously move. The simplest circuit is made by connecting one end of a battery to the other end with a wire; however, this can melt the wire and cause sparks, so that's definitely not the kind of circuit you should build! The simplest and safest circuit can be made by connecting one end of a battery to a material that has a resistance, like a resistor or a small lightbulb, and the end of that material to the other end of the battery. The purpose of adding a resistance to the circuit is to limit the amount of electricity that flows through the circuit. This type of circuit is shown in Figure 1. You can also learn more about electricity in the Science Buddies Electricity, Magnetism, & Electromagnetism Tutorial.
Figure 1. A simple battery and resistor circuit.
The simple circuit can be made more complicated by adding a switch in between one end of the battery and the resistance. When the switch is opened, the loop is opened and electricity can't flow through the circuit. When the switch is closed, electricity can flow through the loop. If instead of a resistor, a lightbulb is used as the resistance, the lightbulb will remain dark when the switch is open. If the switch is closed, electricity flows through the circuit and the lightbulb shines.
In this electronics and electricity science fair project, you will use a simple circuit and other materials to make a dance pad. You will sandwich the simple circuit between two pieces of square material. The two pieces of square material will act as the switch and conduct electricity. When you step on the square, the circuit will close and electricity will flow to light a lightbulb or turn on a buzzer. When you step off the square, it will separate and the lightbulb or buzzer will turn off. You will have to add an insulator between the square pieces so that they are not always touching (and so that the lightbulb or buzzer is not always on). Including the insulator also acts as a way to add "spring" to the dance pad.
As in all engineering projects, you will have to ask yourself several questions before you finish your dance pad. To see the engineering design process in action, view the PBS Kids Go! episode "Bodies Electric" and see how the Design Squad students work to build a more-complicated dance pad. For your dance pad, you first need to determine what you want your dance pad to do. Do you want both lights and buzzers, just lights or just buzzers? How long do you want the dance pad to last? The answers to these questions are called the design criteria. You will then have to make a preliminary design and a materials list. You will then build and test a prototype. What is the best material to use for the pad? What kind of material can take a lot of stomping without getting damaged? What is the appropriate amount of insulation to place between the two squares of material? As you test the prototype, you will get information that you can use to refine your design. Now get to work so that you and your friends can dance the night away!
Terms and Concepts
- Electric circuit
- What is an electrical circuit?
- What kinds of appliances have switches in your home?
- What is the difference between a conductor and an insulator?
BibliographyCheck out this video to see how the Design Squad students worked on building a more-complicated dance pad.
- WGBH Educational Foundation. (2008). Design Squad Projects: Bodies Electric. Retrieved October 21, 2015, from http://pbskids.org/designsquad/video/bodies-electric/
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Materials and Equipment
The electronic components for this project are available from Jameco Electronics.
- Miniature incandescent bulbs (3); part #141066
- Philips head screwdriver; available at your local hardware store
- Hookup wire, 22-gauge, solid (1 roll); part #2152876
- Wire strippers; part #159291
- Electrical tape (1 roll); part #285587
- AA batteries (12); part #198707
- 4xAA battery holder (3); part #216152
- Corrugated cardboard (1 large piece)
- Copper foil or copper tape, enough to make at least six 1 inch by 1 inch pads; available at a hardware store or Amazon.com
- Scotch® tape (1 roll)
- Different kinds of insulators, like bubble wrap or polyethylene foam wrap (enough to lay and wrap over the edges of a 12-in. x 12-in. piece of cardboard.)
- Duct tape
- StyrofoamTM insulation sheeting, ½-in. x 48 in. x 96 in. (1); available at hardware stores
- Utility knife; available at your local hardware store
- Acrylic sheet, 12 in. x 12 in. x 1/8 in. (2); available at hardware stores or Amazon.com
- Volunteers (5)
- Optional: digital camera
- Lab notebook
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As mentioned in the introduction, to start this science fair project, you will need to develop design criteria. You should record your design criteria in your lab notebook. Refer back to the design criteria as you work on your dance pad. This is a DIY (do-it-yourself) project, so be flexible with changes and adjustments along the way. You might want to view the Science Buddies Engineering Design Project Guide before you begin. If you have questions about electronic terms or tools as you perform the experiment, find a local mentor who is knowledgeable about these topics or try checking out our Electronics Primer.
Building the Electrical Circuit
- Cut two 1 ½-foot (ft.) lengths of wire with the wire strippers. Strip the plastic coating off of both ends of each wire using the wire strippers. See the Science Buddies Wire Stripping Tutorial if you do not know how to use wire strippers. Strip off ½ in. of plastic. Set the wires aside.
- Insert four batteries into a battery holder. Make sure the (+) symbols on the batteries line up with the (+) symbols in the battery holder.
- Use wire strippers to strip about one inch of extra insulation off one of the battery pack leads. Wrap the end of the lead around one lead of the incandescent bulb and secure it with electrical tape
- Strip about one inch of insulation off the battery pack's other lead. Twist it together with the bare end of one of the wires you stripped in step one. Make sure that the bare wires are touching and wrap a piece of electrical tape around the connection.
- Take the remaining piece of wire from step one and twist one of the ends around the other lead of the incandescent lamp. Secure it with electrical tape.
- Repeat steps 1–6 two more times so that you have three circuits.
- The simple circuits are ready for insertion into a dance pad.
Building the Dance Pad
- Cut the cardboard into two 12-in. x 12-in. squares with the scissors.
- Now cut two 1-in. x 1-in. pieces of copper foil or tape and place one of the copper foil pieces in the middle of one cardboard piece and the other piece of copper foil in the middle of the other cardboard piece. The foil should be placed such that they match when you sandwich the cardboard squares together. Tape both pieces of foil down with a few small pieces of Scotch tape (not necessary if you are using copper tape, which has a sticky backing).
- Work with your choice of insulator and place it around the edges of one of the cardboard squares. You will have to experiment to determine the correct thickness and width of insulator.
- Using electrical tape, tape down one of the free wires from the circuit to the copper foil on one of cardboard pieces so that the bare wires makes a good connection to the foil. Tape the other free wire from the circuit to the copper foil on the other cardboard pieces.
Now make a sandwich with the cardboard pieces. Make sure that the foils align and match together. When the foil pieces touch, the circuit loop should close and electricity should flow. Press down on the middle of the cardboard. Does the lightbulb light up? If it doesn't, troubleshoot the circuit to make sure that there is no impediment to electricity flow.
- Make sure that the wires are connected to the copper foil pieces and that the electrical tape is not getting in the way.
- You may also need to increase the size and redo the placement of the copper foil so that there is enough contact area.
- Does the lamp turn on without stepping on the pad? Make sure your insulation is thick enough.
- Once the dance pad is working well, duct tape the sandwich together.
- Repeat steps 1–7 using the Styrofoam. Use the utility knife and cut the foam into 12-in. x 12-in. pieces.
- Repeat steps 1–7 using the two acrylic plastic pieces.
- Keep track of the cost of making each dance pad.
Figure 2. This figure shows a prototype of a dance pad with a simple lightbulb circuit. The two pieces of cardboard fit together so the copper pads in the middle touch when someone steps on the pad, which completes the circuit and lights up the lamp.
Testing the Dance Pads
- Now it's time to start testing the different dance pads. Invite your volunteers to help test. Each volunteer, including you, should step on each dance pad 25 times. How does each dance pad hold up under testing? Does the lightbulb light up each time someone steps on the dance pad? Does the material of the dance pad degrade? Which dance pads do the volunteers like the most? Ask your volunteers which material they would use for a dance pad. Record all of your observations in your lab notebook. As an option, you could take photographs of the dance pads at the beginning of testing, during testing, and at the end of testing, to include in your lab notebook or on your project display board.
Below are some questions and considerations to take into account as you review your observations:
- Is there a dance pad that your volunteers clearly liked above the others?
- Is this choice the least-expensive choice?
- Are there any improvements that you can make to the dance pads to improve their quality and keep the cost of making them low? For example, can you find thicker cardboards or thinner plastics? Perhaps using aluminum foil is just as good and less expensive than copper foil.
- Consider improving the reliability of the dance pad by increasing the size of the copper foil so that the area of contact of the switch is larger.
- You could change the size and thickness of the insulation.
- Can you easily make attractive decorations on the surface of each material?
Work on improving your dance pads. Make only one change at a time. Each time that you make a change, record the effects of the change in your lab notebook.
- Once you feel that you have made a large improvement, repeat steps 1–2 of this section.
- After testing and evaluating your observations, you will arrive at a good design for the dance pad.
- Presentation suggestions: Use any photographs you took and the observations that you made to present your data. Place your observations in a data table to make the presentation organized and neat, and consider using a display board. Use your final dance pad design in your presentation.
If you like this project, you might enjoy exploring these related careers:
- Devise a way to measure the minimum weight that is needed to close the switch. What are the key factors that influence this value of minimum weight?
- Figure out a way to make your dance pad make sounds in addition to flash lights when you step on it.
- The Dance Dance Revolution home video game uses a fabric dance pad. Can you find an appropriate fabric to make a dance pad? Are there any other kinds of materials to use for dance pads?
- Once you have arrived at a design for the dance pad, put together a grid of dance pads, like the platform in the Dance Dance Revolution arcade/video game. Is there a way to hide all of the wiring so that the dancers just see the dance pad grid?
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