In April, I got a strange email from a guy by the name of “Science Bob.” Featured on ABC’s Late Night Talk Show Jimmy Kimmel Live, Science Bob provides some unique demonstrations and builds for the talk show in the STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Additionally, he seems to have a massive amount of fun doing so! On a memorable previous segment on the show, Jimmy and Guillermo duked it out with a pair of ping pong ball blasters utilizing the Venturi effect.
With that segment in mind, Science Bob inquired about commissioning a massive, Iron Man-style build for his 20th show appearance. Without hesitation, I was on board with the plan as it was right up Out of Darts’ alley -- especially since a lot of the component designs were mostly finished and would include existing products like the Out of Darts Jupiter and Proton Pack.
With an early May deadline for the project looming, I quickly sent off a bid. After some back and forth between Science Bob, the producers, and myself, the pitch was approved. We hit the ground running the following day.
PROTO-PASTA & CLOSED-LOOP COMMITMENTS
As you may know, we have switched over our 3D filament supplier to Proto-Pasta. Not only has it cut down on supply chain headaches, but we have been able to close the loop on waste. With Proto-Pasta, we are able to drop off empty spools as well as support material and misprints to their “proto-plant” to be reused in another batch of filament spooling.
Proto-Pasta is also easy to collaborate with since they are also based in Vancouver, Washington. We decided we wanted to incorporate a new color into this project that we didn’t have in-house. So, we stopped by Proto-Pasta, and Alex helped us select the perfect complementary color: “Good Old Gray.” We wanted the nerf suits to have an industrial feel with pops of color, so this neutral addition of Good Old Gray was a perfect choice! Next up, designing and printing.
THE DESIGN PROCESS
3D printing allows for rapid prototyping and designing as you build, which is really beneficial for a project like this. While existing products, like our Proton Pack, can be printed and wired without much fuss. This design required some custom design elements, such as a bracket to mount them to a backpack frame which had to go through a few design iterations before the final assembly.
I left some other designs to Tarik, like modifications to his Arm Mount design. He also went to work creating the 3D-printed grip for the electronic trigger button, but sometimes working with a designer remotely is like a giant game of telephone. Before he arrived at OOD HQ from out of state, he and I based our initial designs on different styles of button switches and had to correct them later.
Additionally, some unique challenges can arise when doing a project for a TV show. For instance, we haven’t added a master on/off switch to our production version of the Proton Pack because we didn't want customers to leave batteries inside the blaster due to LiPo handling safety (see our LiPo battery care & safety guide). However, since they’re being used on stage under supervision, we decided they could use a master on/off so that we could be sure everything is powered on and ready to go when they went live.
Meanwhile, Greg was hard at work figuring out the wiring system. Most “standard” retail foam blasters have physical interlocks connected to two triggers: one to spin up the flywheels and one to push foam ammo into the flywheels. This prevents a dart or ball from getting pushed into the flywheels when they are not spinning fast enough. However, we wanted to make operating these gauntlets simpler for the people on stage, so we needed a way to do the same thing electronically.
An off-the-shelf component like a delay circuit can bring the flywheels up to speed before firing, but it doesn’t prevent the firing circuit from pushing balls into the flywheels when they’re spinning back down. A motor braking circuit (which provides a small amount of current in the opposite direction to slow down the pusher motor) can prevent that.
However, motors can create their own electrical current, and having three motors connected to the same circuit can generate some problems. In this case, residual generated current from the flywheels continued to spin the pusher motor even after you took a finger off the trigger. Ultimately though, I made a call to my buddy James, and we added a diode to our circuit so that both the delay and motor braking would work independently from each other.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
As this project was going on, we couldn’t let it get in the way of the day-to-day tasks. Customer orders were always a priority, and our staff never stopped pulling and packing outgoing orders.
Before this project began, we were already planning to have Tarik visit to go over some designs and film some videos. It truly is serendipitous and incredibly helpful timing that he was able to be on-site to help wrap up the build. Similarly, we already planned an invitational warehouse game and decided to host it still. Thanks again to folks like DrFlux, Walcom, and SilverFoxIndustries for coming down and participating! Needless to say, Out of Darts warehouse was very busy during this project with day-to-day operations and visitors.
I was prepared to cancel my trip to San Diego the Weekend before we shipped the blasters out, but thanks to our team, we managed to finish testing the blasters in time. I’m glad we did because I got a chance to see my buddy Eli at the SDNC and play with Momentum – a brushless two-stage short dart flywheeler beast.
We have a great team here at OOD HQ. The newest member, Carey, has been instrumental in keeping the 80-printer farm up and running for customer orders and projects like these. Similarly, my mod tech, Greg, is excellent at wiring and testing blasters while helping with technical customer service inquiries. Meanwhile, Perry spent the last several weeks boiling the nearly seven hours of footage we filmed during this project down to under 25 minutes. There was so much we didn’t show for the sake of time, but he did an excellent job making the final video production shine.
I can only imagine what the future might bring after this project. While we were aware from the beginning that we wouldn’t receive screen credit for the project, this was certainly an exciting project to be a part of. The Out of Darts team was exceptionally elated when we discovered that Science Bob brought one of the nerf suits to Adam Savage’s Cave, which was received with uproarious, slow-motion laughter. We are all big fans, so that was a huge bonus for us!
I don’t pretend to think that this project (or anything else we do) is solely responsible for the growth of the hobby to where it is today; there are many great modders, designers, and makers out there that also deserve their time in the spotlight. However, I’m really proud to see our blasters featured on national television, and I’m looking forward to working on the next build! - LG