G-Sheet Bells

11 minutes to read Written by: Jasper M-W 2020-07-30

This is a project designed for the 2020 Northland Science Fair by Jasper M-W. This is a summary of the tech going into it. It’s goal was to make a new bell controller for my school and has been completely and utterly successful by effectively all measures.

But first

The following goes somewhat in depth into the design process and the choices made, for faster info go here:

CN Science fair submission (actually good design)

Github of the project (Yes, it is under the MIT license, do what ever you want with it)

Info Guide

Problem

The old Huanui College bell controller was very difficult to program, had limited functionality and it suffered from clock drift (where it becomes more and more inaccurate over time).

Possible Solutions

I came up with a basic design for an improved bell controller (a logic board connected to a relay) and then considered options for the User Interface and the Controller Board.

User Interface

Bell times on an SD card edited via software such as Excel

Pros

Cons

Locally hosted website (Original direction, decided against later)

Pros

Cons

Google Sheets (Not originally considered, final direction)

Pros

Cons

Controller board

Arduino based controller

Positives

Negatives

Raspberry Pi based controller (Final direction)

Positives

Negatives

I ended up using a Raspberry pi 2 for the project, based on these considerations. Using an arduino could be more reliable, but it would take much longer to develop.

Market Research

Traditional bell controllers

Flash Monotron 300CS (Original Huanui College Bell controller)

Price: $300 - $450

Description

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Dynamic Fully Automatic School Bell Timer

Price: $107

Description

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Options somewhat close to my solution

Innovation Wireless Network Bell System

Price: $1000

Description

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Opportunity

My design uses a Raspberry Pi 2 in a 3D printed box that continuously checks the current time against the times it is scheduled to ring. It will occasionally update the scheduled times to ring with the data on a google sheet. When the times match, the Raspberry Pi triggers a relay that triggers the already existing bell-system. There are also 2 switches, one for manually bypassing the system, another for muting the automatic system.

The 3D printed Box also houses diagnostic LEDs, to diagnose internet and power issues.

This design is

Materials used

NB. Decorative materials are not included in the list

PLA (Case material)

PLA is a commonly used 3D printing material. It is cheap, rigid, widely available and, relatively non-toxic compared to other options, which is ideal for 3D printing. In terms of aesthetics, it can be used in any colour, but my device uses black. The final bonus is that PLA is plant based.

Raspberry Pi 2

The controller board that manages the scheduled bell, keeps accurate time, and activates the relay.

Electromagnetic Relay (1 channel, 5v)

Standard relay that you can find everywhere.

Dupont cables

Used in prototypes and final design, super easy and convenient to use.

LEDs (r x2, g x1)

Standard LED diodes, used for the status lights on the side

Resistors (150Ω x 2, 200Ω x 1)

Used with the LEDs so they didn’t immediately burn out.

Screws (M3 for the mounts, M5 for the lid)

The screws are standard hex screws, nothing special about them.

Switches (Momentary switch, Toggle switch)

The momentary switch is used for quick, manual ringing of the bell. Instead of using the hand bell, the user can easily activate the bell. The toggle switch is used for muting the scheduled bells, disconnecting the data line in between the raspberry pi and the relay.

Hot glue and electrical tape

Insulators on cables, and sticking in things like the LEDs. This project certainly made use of the principle: “If you smother something in hot glue, it won’t short”.

Design Brief

Modifications

The prototypes below are defined by the case changes, ignoring software updates in between.

Proof of concept

First proof of concept, hooked up to google sheets. It worked and ticked the relay on the scheduled time, which was all that was wanted. It is the only one that wasn’t installed at the school for a period of time.

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Prototype V1

This is the second proof of concept, still stuck down with a piece of bluetack kind of prototype. The case was just a tupperware box that already had some holes drilled into it. This revision also brought the Ring now and Mute bell switches.

Prototype V2

Getting into the more final versions now, this revision brought in a new 3D printed case and internet status LEDs. This version had some flaws with the size of its case (It was super hard to work with and plug stuff in because of how small the space was).

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Prototype V3

This is currently the final revision. It added a new, bigger, case. It also added a new power LED and was the version where the repository name changed from the disgusting “HCBellsPython” to “GSheetBells”.

In use at my school

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Final Case

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Final Interface

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Testing

Considering the design brief, I would say that Version 3 meets all the requirements. The staff seem quite happy with the new system, and most importantly: The bells are finally on time.

In early revisions, during testing there were some issues (not responding, not connecting to the internet) that I have still not found the source of and were fixed via a restart. I reckon they are probably related to dodgy power/internet connections in the earlier cases. No issues have been identified with the latest design so far (as of Oct 2020), and it has been in place since the 6th of June of 2020.

End Point Market Research

The V1 and V2 prototypes were installed with the old bell controller on hand. The V3 prototype has completely and utterly replaced the old controller. The staff at the school are very happy with the new bell controller. A recent feature request for a dedicated method for inserting repeated bell rings, such as those used during parent-teacher interviews is half done (as of 18 June), and should be complete by the 20th of June. A tutorial that can be used by other schools to develop this system (as a student project) is almost complete (The work in progress can be found at gsheetbells.readthedocs.io). Future developments can be done easily and remotely.

Conclusion

In summary, the prototypes were very successful, while still leaving a few pathways for future development as always. The staff are very happy and feature requests have become more trivial. The case is solid and can potentially stay as an exemplar for the much underused school 3D printer. For now, time is the ultimate test as something is bound to fail eventually, but with the current design it should be trivial to repair.