Intro Electrical Project: Buzzer Competition

At the beginning of the year, recruiting is very important for Duke Robotics. In years past, our introductory meetings have entailed an onboarding process to introduce students to their respective subteams. For electrical, we’ve always been combined with the CS subteam on an introduction to ROS with Turtlesim. While important to electrical, we decided to shift to an electrical-only introduction.

The electrical onboarding was much more open-ended and tasked new students with one task. Groups of 2-3 would be given one piezo-buzzer and were asked “make it as loud as possible.” The benefit of this approach is that it allows students to explore various ways of sending signals to the buzzer (all with proper supervision from senior members, of course). The other benefit of this competition is that it is immediately obvious what other groups and ideas are working, as the sound of the buzzer is hard to miss!

By the end of the competition, there were many creative ideas. The first group to get the buzzer to make noise used an Arduino and a simple PWM signal. Building on this, other groups began to employ op amps and different waveforms to increase the sound intensity.

But, what really increased the level of competition was when groups began using mechanical solutions as well. Using cups, paper, and other materials in the room, one group had the idea of making horns to amplify the sound. This idea quickly spread about the room.

At the end of the prescribed one hour, we had two groups that were objectively the loudest. One group with a tuned Arduino op amp system and one that employed the benchtop function generator at max power. The three electrical “judges” (i.e. senior members) subjected ourselves the the worst of ear torture as we placed both devices at equivalent distance from our ears and decided unanimously that the function generator approach had won.

While a bit tough on the ears, the project served as a good introduction for new members to become engaged with the club. As a result, we’ve had our best electrical recruiting in recent memory.