Robotics group builds enchanted rose for SMS play
An uncle-nephew team of volunteers from the New Milford’s STEM education nonprofit Robotics And Beyond has created a remote-controlled enchanted rose for Schaghticoke Middle School’s upcoming production of “Beauty and the Beast Jr.”
Just like in the movie, the rose will drop petals at key points, to indicate time is running out for the Beast to be loved or be permanently stuck as a beast.
Diane Taylor, music teacher and drama club leader, said she chose this particular show because it has a large cast which matches the depth of talent this year at SMS.
“Plus, the music is great,” she said.
She had no idea at the time how she was going to get a rose.
“I thought, maybe, we could rent one from a local community theater,” she said. “I also considered having a student be the rose.”
But when she heard that Robotics And Beyond was interested in helping with this, she said she “jumped at the chance to collaborate with them.”
“We are always looking for ways to connect technology with the arts, as well as ways to collaborate with local schools and organizations,” said RAB director Paul Chayka.
“So when this opportunity with the Schaghticoke play arose, I thought of Alex Brandorff, a volunteer in our after school STEM and design class.”
Brandorff, an engineer and consultant with his own firm AB Engineering LLC, is the inventor of the portable Take-Along Lift, which helps disabled individuals transfer between wheelchairs, beds, toilets and cars.
Chayka knew that Brandorff’s skills and creativity matched the needs of this project.
Together they combined engineering know-how and programming skills to build a rose for the SMS drama production.
“It sounded like an interesting challenge, and one that Drew would enjoy,” Brandorff said.
“We got together for a couple of hours on Wednesdays after school to work on it together,” he said.
Although most materials expand when heated, Brandorff knew of a very fine nickel-titanium alloy wire that “shrinks” when it is heated to a certain temperature.
An easy way to get the wire to shrink: Run a small current through it.
He realized that if he attached spring-loaded pins to individual wires, the wires would pull the pins down when a small current was applied.
Once he put petals on the pins, he had a working enchanted rose.
With the mechanics in place, Brandorff and Drew turned their attention to programming.
The goal was to press buttons on a remote control and make petals drop at specific times during the play.
The duo applied their programming expertise to an open-source microcontroller called an Arduino, which is relatively easy to program.
The team found an inexpensive generic remote control — the kind used for TVs — gave them enough individual buttons to press, and even one to control a small LED spotlight next to the rose.
“Overall, Alex devoted a lot of time and care to this project,” Chayka said. “The result is simply astounding. He has tremendous creativity, a wide range of engineering skills and knows how to keep costs to a minimum.”
In late February, Chayka, Brandorff and Drew brought the nearly finished rose to a play rehearsal to show Taylor.
“It was amazing to see what they came up with and watch how it works,” she said. “It is going to be one of the highlights of our production, for sure!” After a few finishing touches the rose is now completed and ready for use.
“We will be placing it so the audience will clearly see each time a petal falls. One of our crew members will activate the rose at the appropriate times during the show,” Taylor said.
“I can’t wait to see the play,” Chayka said. “Knowing that a team from RAB made the rose will add an exciting element for me.”
Brandorff and Drew will be there opening night to see their magic rose help make the story come to life.