Building Ponysaurus’s beer pouring, bell ringing, Twitter analyzing, holiday robot.

Justin Sinichko, Former Hardware Developer

Article Categories: #Code, #Hardware

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A team effort between Baldwin& and Viget, the Ponysaurus holiday stunt is a beer-pouring, bell-ringing, social-sentiment-analyzing “holiday thingy.” Ponysaurus Brewing, located in Durham, North Carolina, is unlocking a special tap and giving away free samples of their latest holiday brew whenever Durham is especially nice. Complainers and no-good-doers can take their ba-humbugs and go back to Raleigh.

We set a specific geographic target over the city of Durham and any tweets geotagged within the region are analyzed for sentiment. Most of the tweets we’ve analyzed are neutral in tone, but it’s the positive and negative tweets that move the needle.

As time passes, the needle dances back and forth to coincide with the sentiment of the city of Durham. When there is an outpouring of love and joy on the twittersphere, the needle will creep closer to full “nice-ness.” It takes an overwhelmingly positive Durham to push it over the edge -- but this holiday season that doesn’t seem to be a problem. Much like the Grinch’s heart in the final scene, there’s a point when the needle eventually reaches maximum holiday happiness and the tap-locking arm drops so patrons can taste the special holiday brew; a brass bell rings…and the countdown begins.

Then patrons have only a few minutes to request a holiday sample before the tap locks and the holiday thingy resets sentiment to zero. Note that this beer is ONLY available when Durham has been particularly nice. 

Curious how we made it? Here is how we brought it to life.

It begins with a concept

It begins with a concept and a lot of sketching. Aesthetically the desire was for a machine that could blend into the brewery but also erupt with life. 

From left to right: Early sketch, low fidelity design, CAD model with real proportions, real thing.

We spent time nailing down a vision and tempering ideas with real-world size constraints. In this case we designed the machine around a solid brass steam gauge purchased off eBay. All of the metal was brass, and all of the wood was stained oak. This was the real, quite heavy, deal.

We’re handy with CAD and use our 3D printer to quickly make custom parts -- including those used in production applications. Everything in this image was 3D printed. Most of the mounts, spacers, and mechanical linkages were printed with ABS plastic.

To get this quick-turnaround project done on time we also based the design around finished lumber. When necessary we printed templates and used a jigsaw to quickly tackle complex curves. Even the brass inlays are real.

When we finally opened the steam gauge (twist, don’t pull!) we realized the inner workings were simply too beautiful to ignore. So we printed a mount for a servo, extended a linkage, and made a tubular connector that was specifically sized to handle small needle movements.

When Durham is good, and the needle gets to “Nice”, a ninja-fast servo rings a nautical brass ship bell. The other option was to go electric, include a speaker, and play a midi file or similar -- but that wouldn’t have been nearly as authentic.

When you see the Ponysaurus “Holiday Thingy” in person you’ll notice it has an LED matrix. This displays the usernames of naughty and nice twitterers in real time as well as other messages of encouragement. But to incorporate this display with the machine aesthetic took some ingenuity. We used a printed frame that supported the electronics, some wax paper and plexiglass, and brass stock to hide the edges

And here she is -- all wrapped up. We buffed the oxidation right off the gauge and brought everything back to a nice brass sheen. Be sure to check out the live feed HERE (it’s only exciting during Ponysaurus business hours, otherwise it is offline) — or if you’re in Durham this holiday season, pay a visit to their tap room to see it in action!

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