Levitating a Ping Pong Ball – First Steps

Welcome back to the Digilent Blog!

I have always found magic tricks to be some of the coolest things to witness, whether it’s the straight-up CGI in the Harry Potter movies or some of the more mind-boggling tricks done by David Copperfield at one of his shows (they’re super cool and worth it in my opinion if you are debating on seeing one). However, hand-eye-coordination has never been one of my strong suits, so I eventually resigned to the fact that magic as a hobby was perhaps not for me.

A wand, discarded.

However, in light of my recent work with with electronics, a long dormant dream started flickering once more.

It started back when University of Idaho Emeritus Professor Richard Wall came to me with a small project he had that was doing some proportional height control of a ping pong ball with a small DC fan. Having done some proportional analog control with the brightness of an LED, and realizing that “this is pretty much the same thing,” I accepted the offer to work on this project.

Richard stopping by the Digilent offices.
Richard stopping by the Digilent Offices.

As you may have guessed, that was an incorrect assessment.The setup consisted of some flexible plastic that was taped around a small fan so there was a lot of air loss. Additionally I ended up cutting part of the tube down in an attempt to have the ball float higher in the tube, but messed up the structural integrity to the point that there wasn’t enough air pressure to float the ball at all… however, that’s beside the point.

How the fan originally looked.
How the fan originally looked.

Clearly, some more work needs to be done on my end to get the ping pong ball levitating. What I’ll try next (and detail in part 2 of this blog series) is using the PmodMAXSONAR as a way to receive a desired height input, and then using the PmodOC1 or PmodOD1 as my transistor to turn the fan on and off at a rapid enough rate to get a pseudo proportional fan.

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About James Colvin

The biggest thing that I enjoy is learning new things. Especially things involving some type of technology; computer components, fun gadgets, games, coding techniques, etc. I love spending time with my wife and our two sons and hanging out with our friends. During my normal work day, I manage the Digilent Forum and the North American Support team.

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