Engineering Roundtable - DIY Pinball

In this month's episode of "Engineering Roundtable," Nick Poole works on his DIY pinball machine!

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A while back, we posted an episode of "Engineering Roundtable" where resident Creative Technologist Nick Poole was starting to brainstorm ideas for a DIY pinball machine. We visited Lyons Classic Pinball and Nick talked about some of his hopes for his project. You can check out that video here:



In today's episode, Nick begins work on the cabinet for his machine. This is where the brains of the game will be housed.



Nick is also beginning work on his controller board, so there is plenty of new developments coming down the pipes. For now, leave any questions and comments below and stay tuned as Nick's project takes shape!

Comments 9 comments

  • qcard / about 10 years ago * / 3

    Cool! I like pinball machines too. Here's my DIY machine!

    • 172pilot / about 10 years ago / 1

      WOW.. What you built is amazing.. I bet the prototypes at Ballys weren't as good as what you made.. Did you ever release your board as a virtual pinball loadable game? I'd love to see how it plays!!

  • Tenacious_Techhunter / about 10 years ago / 2

    Re-posted because you may have missed it the first time... please don't hold it against me... ^_^;

    Nick, a couple of things…

    First, buying old pinball parts may be a good choice when you have an old machine you are trying to restore, but if you are trying to build a brand new machine, and AREN’T going for a particular look, there are consequences you should consider:

    Buying old pinball machine parts prevents restoration of an older machine. Let’s not advocate damaging history. :)

    Parts from an old pinball machine are likely rather worn.

    There are lots of places to buy brand new (that means RELIABLE) pinball parts from. Don’t resort to e-Bay!

    Second, you should make sure to do your physics homework on this one. You have to figure out the most efficient path for a pinball to take going up and down a playfield so that the ball isn’t losing too much (or too little) speed as it goes around your orbits and ramps.

    Third, some ideas for your play field and play modes:

    Use the Sparkfun Soldering Kits as “toys”. It just makes sense, and works well with a “Maker Faire” play mode. A stopwatch toy is obvious for an “AVC” play mode. An active webcam toy would be cool too, letting people scope out the action remotely from a playfield view!. XD It also works out well with a “New Product Friday” play mode. A blinky miniature Sparkfun Server toy would go well with the Free Day play modes and the “Friday New Product Post” play mode.

    Free Day 1: Hit drop targets spelling “Refresh” to activate. Within the time limit, hit the “Refresh Key” target repeatedly until the “Free Day” indicator/light/display message comes up, then fire the ball up the “Free Day” ramp to score.

    Free Day 2: Hit drop targets spelling “Captcha” to activate. Fire the ball into the pop bumpers to fill out a Captcha, and fire the ball up the “Free Day” ramp when it is correctly completed to score; repeat as possible within the time limit. One of the bumpers, or a nearby target, may inject a “spelling error” into the Captcha submission, requiring you to fire the ball up the “Free Day” ramp to clear it and start from scratch before trying again.

    Inventory Day: Jackpot starts at a high number and slowly ticks down; the faster you hit EVERY playfield element at least once, the larger the jackpot you receive. Kickbacks and extra balls should be activated to compensate for having to “take inventory” of the Outlanes.

    AVC Day: Fire the ball around the orbit 4 times, and fire the ball around the ramp 4 times (I presume in the same direction as the AVC itself, clockwise or counterclockwise). Each time you start an orbit or a ramp, a rollover starts a stopwatch; if you successfully complete the orbit, a rollover stops the stopwatch; the time is subtracted from the jackpot, so faster times will score more; if the ball falls prey to hazards, and does not complete the “course” (orbit or ramp), and the ball returns to the flippers, a rollover (or some other playfield switches) apply a “Did Not Finish” score penalty to the jackpot. Points are awarded after 4 attempts of the orbit and 4 attempts of the ramp are made.

    Maker Faire: Hit the playfield element for each toy to “solder” the kit. Then, test the kit to make sure you soldered the kit correctly; for instance, with the Simon kit, you have to hit the target corresponding to each Simon button. If you hit the targets in the Simon sequence displayed when you “soldered” the kit, you get a bonus for winning at Simon. After “soldering” the Big Time watch, fire through a spinner to set the correct time. A bonus if multiples of each kit are completed, and if all kits are completed at least once.

    Friday New Product Post (Multiball): After locking down “new products” (various toys scattered around the board), hit the target at the webcam to activate the New Product Post. Then, fire the pinballs through the ramp or orbit past the camera to “film the new products”, to increase the jackpot.

    Good luck with the pinball project! I look forward to hearing more about it!

  • Marty200 / about 10 years ago / 1

    Looks pretty cool.

    Can't really tell, but it looks like you used regular plywood. If you use Good One Side plywood you will have a much easier time finishing it.

    I don't know about American Home Depots, but in Canada they all have panel saws. If you go there with a plan of what your cuts are going to be it makes it getting it in a car much easier.

  • How about a project development theme... First round of drop flags lights up the schematic diagram, then lock the ball in the schematic to get to the next round. Second round of drop flags lights up the PCB layout, then lock the ball in the PCB layout to get to the next round. Third round of drop flags lights up the software, then lock the ball in the IDE to get to the next round. Final round of drop flags powers up your project and lets loose multiball play. Tilt, of course, results in blue smoke.

  • einro / about 10 years ago / 1

    Ah pinballs of the 70's when I repaired them. Found Nixie tube circuits that shorted in high humidity (acid core solder), repair notes in Spanish, and a mechanical machine from a bar someone used WD40 to clean (the can says "cleans and protects"). The protection is a form of varnish the does NOT conduct electricity. I like the new boards with HDMI output to a monitor in the headboard. Flexible enough to support more than one game and a plexiglass protected play field that could support imbedded displays below. That could help keep it more flexible when an 'oh wow' idea comes in late in the design. Good Luck.

  • Member #6383 / about 10 years ago / 1

    Cool Project. So I guess SFE will be carrying the mechanical components, (solenoid bumpers, etc.), in the future? It seems to me that a "good design" for the play field also requires a fair amount of physics modeling, the slope of the play field, the trajectory of certain launchers, etc. Perfect for a PC modeling project with a graphical interface. Looks like a good project for an Xmega. Has the processor platform been selected yet? Lastly, what is Nick's left should tattoo molecule?


  • SFUptownMaker / about 10 years ago / 1

    This has been a project I've wanted to tackle for a long, long time. Kudos to Nick for beating me to it!

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