At the times when the general recommendation is to stay home we were facing a challenge — should we cancel our workshops or reinvent our ways of working to stay productive.
We are after all an invention lab, so we went to invent and decided to launch a hybrid workshop with children attending from home — a combination of video call and physical materials provided by us. The topic for the workshop was electricity and our aim was to explore one way of creating electricity.
When we have an on-site workshop we are able to personally coach and support the attendees, sometimes also lending a hand. Virtually this is not possible and the initial challenge got another dimension to it. After a number of test and prototypes we came up with suitable solution on what we want to build. The resulting generator was constructed in a way it can be assembled only one correct way while also being clear enough to not require specific documented guidelines. We also eliminated the need for tools that can be hard to find at home (soldering stations etc) or that would potentially be hazardous so that the kids go assemble it without being accompanied by a parent or a guardian.
For the video call we tried a two camera setup, one for overview — for the attendees to see and communicate with the host, and the other one for detail — to focus on the materials and table.
The approach was good, but switching between the views does require a little more practice from us. What it did prove is that having such workshops over the internet is possible and fun, but it requires more preparations on areas that typically during in-person workshops can be omitted or solved on the fly.
What is an electric generator?
Electric generator is a device that converts mechanical energy to electrical energy. For example by pedal, water flowing and similar movements can be used to create electricity by generator. This all thanks to the phenomenon called electromagnetic induction — which in a very simplified way can be explained by saying — if you rotate a wire between magnets with different poles, the wire will end up with electric current.
In the above graph — the black line is the wire, the grey is shaft and N & S represent the poles of permanent magnets. If one now were to rotate the wire between the magnets, then one can measure electric current at the ends of the wire. There are multiple ways for rotation — instead of wire, one could rotate magnets, additionally turns out the longer the wire the more electric current will be created. All that is better explained in numerous videos and texts out in the internet. We do recommend to read more on the topic.
In a way, the opposite of electric generator is the electric motor, because a motor is typically used to rotate or mechanically move something with electricity. Not surprisingly using an electric motor is the key to our little generator.
What does one need? In addition to the motor one also needs a casing to hold the parts together. We assembled it from plywood details. Additionally one needs a flywheel to make the movement easier. And finally — a LED light — to prove that one in fact has created electricity.
What happened during the virtual workshop?
We assembled the parts one by one. The trickiest part of the process was to connect the wires to the motor and LED without using a soldering iron. The trick was to fasten them in a way they would not get loose. Eventually everyone managed to bend, wind and connect the legs and wires as expected.
And here is a ready-made generator that the participants assembled and can use to create light at home … or why not put it aside to have parts recycled in future workshops.
Workshop: Timo Varblas
Text and photos: Heikko Ellermaa, Timo Varblas