interest in buzzer system?

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interest in buzzer system?

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Oct 29, 2009 2:43 pm

This is cross-posted from the collegiate discussion section. Feel free to reply in either thread (but not both, I guess, since that would be confusing).

I'm thinking of building a buzzer system sometime next spring. I have a basic design worked out which I think is sound and some ideas for implementation. I may even attempt to sell some of these systems if there is enough interest. For now, I'd like to ask people the following questions:

1) What features, besides the obvious, would you find desirable in a buzzer system?
2) What kind of physical configuration (in terms of housing, button styles, etc.) do people prefer?
3) How much would your program be inclined to pay for one? Right now I'm looking at a price point of around $150 to $200, depending on initial costs, but PCB production costs scale most unlinearly (in my favor) so that number could conceivably go down.

This is by no means a certainty and it's just something I've been fooling around with in my spare time. But if there's a market for this, I might take it up in the spring after I've defended.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Matt Weiner » Thu Oct 29, 2009 2:48 pm

I guess "it would be nice if, unlike every system currently on the market, the buzzer system did not break as a result of being used for its intended function" counts as "obvious", so I will add these two things:

1) Easy repair by a competent college student using off-the-shelf parts and tools > obscure design and the need to mail it somewhere to get it fixed
2) The smaller the system is, the more likely people can put it in their luggage and take it to faraway tournaments. This is going to be an increasingly important issue in the coming years, because checked-item fees on airlines are not going away.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Golran » Thu Oct 29, 2009 2:56 pm

One thing that I like is the light physically attached to the buzzer as to eliminate people thinking they have the buzz when it's actually someone else's.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Irreligion in Bangladesh » Thu Oct 29, 2009 3:06 pm

If it's doable without additional cost, different sound tones for different teams is good although not quite necessary if you've got lights on the buzzers like Ian said.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Oct 29, 2009 3:07 pm

Matt Weiner wrote:I guess "it would be nice if, unlike every system currently on the market, the buzzer system did not break as a result of being used for its intended function" counts as "obvious", so I will add these two things:
One of the most common problems I have seen in buzzer system manufacture has been the tendency to use incredibly flimsy wire for connections. This is something I intend to fix.
1) Easy repair by a competent college student using off-the-shelf parts and tools > obscure design and the need to mail it somewhere to get it fixed
I will try to do this to the extent that it is possible. The buzzer system will be based around a microcontroller chip (for easy of layout, compactness, and various other reasons), so that part may not be as easy to repair. However, that's not something that should be susceptible to being damaged all that often.
2) The smaller the system is, the more likely people can put it in their luggage and take it to faraway tournaments. This is going to be an increasingly important issue in the coming years, because checked-item fees on airlines are not going away.
Yeah, compactness is definitely one of the goals.

As for lights on the buzzers themselves: I tend to like that less since it involves running power out to the buzzer, which can result in shorts if people contrive to break it. It also makes it more difficult to create a compact system, since you need something that houses both the buzzing mechanism and the LED in such a way that the two don't get in each other's way.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Matthew D » Thu Oct 29, 2009 3:23 pm

something can take a little bit of abuse would be great. This one of the reasons I like my sets of the judge
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Quantum Mushroom Billiard Hat » Thu Oct 29, 2009 3:26 pm

Along with not using flimsy wire, don't use those stupid clip connections that get used in phone jacks and ethernet cords. They break way too often. If all external wiring connections can be made like the ones shown below, that would be awesome. Also, being able to separate the buzzer, cord, box, and power cord is a very good thing.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by jonah » Thu Oct 29, 2009 3:36 pm

A few thoughts off the top of my head:

I agree with the endorsement of RCA plugs, though XLR or locking TS/TRS would be nicer because of the (sturdy) locking feature. That's considerably more expensive and somewhat larger, though. And the more standard, the better: you should be able to replace as many parts as possible via a trip to Radio Shack. Or, uh, The Shack.

Expandability shouldn't be limited by any factor other than what's strictly necessary, e.g. power transmission. This probably implies a daisy-chain topology a la Buzzersystems.com. Another feature of theirs that I hope you'll emulate, although it's not actually a component of the system itself, is a nice durable case that's easy to transport.

Quickness of setup counts.

Avoid small parts. They'll get lost and forgotten.

Have a really long power cord.

Actually, all the cords should be long; the 1.5' or whatever cords on the Buzzersystems.com systems are really annoying.

Adjustable volume for the buzzing sound would be nice.

I'll probably think of more later on.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Oct 29, 2009 3:36 pm

squareroot165 wrote:Along with not using flimsy wire, don't use those stupid clip connections that get used in phone jacks and ethernet cords. They break way too often. If all external wiring connections can be made like the ones shown below, that would be awesome. Also, being able to separate the buzzer, cord, box, and power cord is a very good thing.
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Noted. I hate those things anyway and was planning on using phono jacks.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Captain Sinico » Thu Oct 29, 2009 3:48 pm

One thing I'd like to see is USB connectivity. Having recently made a USB thermocouple transducer for ~$50, I wonder how difficult that would be.

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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Red-necked Phalarope » Thu Oct 29, 2009 3:59 pm

jonah wrote:Have a really long power cord.
Agreed. It's all too often the case that a given game room setup is entirely dependent on the 3-5 foot-long power cord, which is especially frustrating when the buzzer cords (or equivalents) are 10+ feet.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Matthew D » Thu Oct 29, 2009 4:01 pm

Mike just wondering, how would you use USB connectivity on a buzzer system? I know I am being a bit dense but had to ask
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by cvdwightw » Thu Oct 29, 2009 4:36 pm

grapesmoker wrote:1) What features, besides the obvious, would you find desirable in a buzzer system?
Obviously we need to use eight brain-computer interfaces so that we don't even need buzzers any more.

In a more serious vein, it should be intuitively obvious to put away, and have a power cord that doesn't break easily (I know of three systems whose power cords have broken at UCI). By "intuitively obvious" I mean that even the least skilled staffer should be able to figure out what parts go where when disassembling the system at the end of the tournament, and you should have enough carry space that you're not literally sitting on the box to get it to close.
grapesmoker wrote:3) How much would your program be inclined to pay for one? Right now I'm looking at a price point of around $150 to $200, depending on initial costs, but PCB production costs scale most unlinearly (in my favor) so that number could conceivably go down.
If my knowledge of the buzzer market is correct, you're already undercutting every other buzzer manufacturer by at least $100.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Oct 29, 2009 4:38 pm

Captain Sinico wrote:One thing I'd like to see is USB connectivity. Having recently made a USB thermocouple transducer for ~$50, I wonder how difficult that would be.

MaS
For a PIC-based system, not that hard. I've never done any USB programming, but as I understand it, the PIC18F series already has all the features necessary to make a USB interface work. This is something that I'm definitely keeping in mind for a second iteration of the system, if I ever get that far, but right now I'm kind of trying to take it step by step and not get ahead of myself in terms of what I can do.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Thu Oct 29, 2009 4:43 pm

cvdwightw wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:3) How much would your program be inclined to pay for one? Right now I'm looking at a price point of around $150 to $200, depending on initial costs, but PCB production costs scale most unlinearly (in my favor) so that number could conceivably go down.
If my knowledge of the buzzer market is correct, you're already undercutting every other buzzer manufacturer by at least $100.
Ours cost what, $215? And with the table-top buttons it would have been $195. (The Officiator, I think?)
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Matt Weiner » Thu Oct 29, 2009 4:57 pm

grapesmoker wrote:As for lights on the buzzers themselves: I tend to like that less since it involves running power out to the buzzer, which can result in shorts if people contrive to break it. It also makes it more difficult to create a compact system, since you need something that houses both the buzzing mechanism and the LED in such a way that the two don't get in each other's way.
Fair enough; I would like to see the basic principle of "make sure you know who has buzzed" taken into account in some way, though. Ways to do this with lights on a central unit might include: different colored lights, lights that are in the shape of a number, or spacing out the lights in a pattern other than a straight line.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by grapesmoker » Thu Oct 29, 2009 5:04 pm

Crazy Andy Watkins wrote:Ours cost what, $215? And with the table-top buttons it would have been $195. (The Officiator, I think?)
We have one of those as well. Its major deficiency, as I've pointed out, is the incredible flimsiness of its wiring, which breaks at every opportunity.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Thu Oct 29, 2009 5:52 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
Crazy Andy Watkins wrote:Ours cost what, $215? And with the table-top buttons it would have been $195. (The Officiator, I think?)
We have one of those as well. Its major deficiency, as I've pointed out, is the incredible flimsiness of its wiring, which breaks at every opportunity.
Yeah; I was just giving ours contra Dwight's belief (perhaps brought on by California quizbowl inflation) that other systems all cost $250-300 at least. I have to say ours has given us no problems.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Captain Sinico » Thu Oct 29, 2009 10:28 pm

Matthew D wrote:Mike just wondering, how would you use USB connectivity on a buzzer system? I know I am being a bit dense but had to ask
The immediate application I have in mind is automated or nearly automated machine-precise recognition, timing, and scoring. With a buzzer system that interfaces to a computer in a simple way, very simple software could be written to automatically recognize the buzzer (maybe even by saying their name), run an on-buzz timer with alarm to ensure that their answer comes within time, and then credit that person and their team with a right or wrong answer and attendant points using a single keystroke. In fact, there already exist computer-interfacing buzzer systems that have this type of scoring software, but they're absurdly expensive and the software isn't especially good.
Down the line, other, even cooler stuff could be done. For example, rounds could be recorded as audio files and used to play games with automated reading and scorekeeping (obviously human intervention would still be needed to judge answers) with recording of exact buzz points. I suppose that's really about as automated as quizbowl can get.

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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by nobthehobbit » Fri Oct 30, 2009 3:43 am

Captain Sinico wrote:Down the line, other, even cooler stuff could be done. For example, rounds could be recorded as audio files and used to play games with automated reading and scorekeeping (obviously human intervention would still be needed to judge answers) with recording of exact buzz points. I suppose that's really about as automated as quizbowl can get.
I was part of two attempts to do this at (horrors!) the Trans-Canada Championship Match after VETO VII and VETO VIII (once as a site mod, once as a player). We used the software JoeQuiz, written by a Waterloo student. Unfortunately, the first time it didn't work (the moderator couldn't connect), and the second time it crashed after each tossup, and we reverted to the usual method in each case after wasting a lot of time. It was, however, intended for games played over the phone and used the internet; perhaps if everything was done in person the issues it had could be resolved.

As for a Jerry-made buzzer system, I'd probably buy it. One thing I like about the buzzers both UBC and SFU got were the lights on the individual buzzers so that you knew if you were in first.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) » Fri Oct 30, 2009 5:04 am

I would be willing to pay a little extra to have a large light directly in front of me, either in a separate box on my desk (I don't like this as much) or else on the console in my hand (I'm a big fan of this one). If it were possible to make it more durable, I like the general setup of the SBVZ buzzers where they are a small box with a large button on them, and the bottom lights up. I also enjoy buzzers with joysticks or larger boxes to hold. I do not like pedals. I personally would like there to be a way to make something like the buzzing sound that Zeecraft has, I find the tone it makes completely unobjectionable. I would request that you avoid the scratchy harsh sounds and the dog whistle noise that seem to so afflict many other systems.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by rchschem » Fri Oct 30, 2009 8:51 am

Matthew D wrote:Mike just wondering, how would you use USB connectivity on a buzzer system? I know I am being a bit dense but had to ask
We run our tournaments using a suite of software that tallies in real time, and being able to connect the buzzer straight to the computer would eliminate extra carbon units. Look at how helpful this was in Wargames!

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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Mechanical Beasts » Fri Oct 30, 2009 12:42 pm

I would say that having a buzzer directly in front of someone is a big plus if people are willing to pay for it (and I imagine many will be). For one thing, inexperienced moderators can keep the game moving much more quickly when they don't have to think to recognize the right person (I was almost criminally slow at doing this for several months, and I'm still not great). For another, as a player, you can spend more of your five seconds thinking about the answer and fewer ensuring that you're the one who buzzed in (ever since I lost a game by negging our Emergency team out of a tossup on max-flow since I actually lost the buzzer race with Mike Bentley, I've been careful about this, possibly to my detriment).

That said, if the lights are on a central hub but awesome in some fashion (i.e. don't rely on position alone to tell who you are), you're golden.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Oct 30, 2009 1:46 pm

Jeremy Gibbs Free Energy wrote:I would be willing to pay a little extra to have a large light directly in front of me, either in a separate box on my desk (I don't like this as much) or else on the console in my hand (I'm a big fan of this one). If it were possible to make it more durable, I like the general setup of the SBVZ buzzers where they are a small box with a large button on them, and the bottom lights up. I also enjoy buzzers with joysticks or larger boxes to hold. I do not like pedals. I personally would like there to be a way to make something like the buzzing sound that Zeecraft has, I find the tone it makes completely unobjectionable. I would request that you avoid the scratchy harsh sounds and the dog whistle noise that seem to so afflict many other systems.
The problem with systems like these is that they eliminate modularity. If you make the buzzer fully generic in the sense that it's just a single switch that you close, you make it easy to replace one type of buzzer with another. If you now have to worry about wiring for the LEDs, you can't do that. For this reason, as well as a few others, I intend to steer clear of such a design.
rchschem wrote:We run our tournaments using a suite of software that tallies in real time, and being able to connect the buzzer straight to the computer would eliminate extra carbon units. Look at how helpful this was in Wargames!
What software do you use?
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by rchschem » Fri Oct 30, 2009 1:56 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
What software do you use?
It's a custom suite written by one of our QB parents. A client runs on each computer in a match room, displaying pictures of the players and the score. A scorer clicks on the player's image when he/she gets a tossup and the points are tallied. The scorer clicks an icon with the bonus point value for bonus segments. A master computer runs the scoreboard program, which monitors progress and ranks the teams. At the end of each match it Swiss-pairs the next and announces the pairings. It also sends pairings and score updates by text to players' and coaches' phones, and outputs in SQBS format.

It requires a computer in each match room and another somewhere else, and it's written in J. We plan to get it bulletproof enough to offer it up to the QB community someday.

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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Captain Sinico » Fri Oct 30, 2009 2:01 pm

I have some ideas to allow each player to have a light, which I have to strongly agree is a big plus in a system (though I should note, in response to Mike Bentley upthread, that the Judge's lights won't be backwards if the Judge isn't set up backwards...) Some systems have light individual modules connected to the main module on one side and a trigger module on the other; I have in mind here the BuzzerSystems.com systems. Do that, and you can do all the connections through phono plugs or whatever you're thinking of using. In fact, it should be possible to allow such a system to be used without the light modules, if people don't want to pay for them/set them up/some are broken or whatever, though that's obviously going to require some other kind of readout to tell who buzzed. On a related note, one thing you could do is include a light in the trigger; for example, you could have a hand trigger with a transparent button that lights up when that player's buzzed.
One thing that you definitely should do is use LED's wherever possible. Systems with incandescent bulbs require frequent replacement of said bulbs, which are more fragile than LED's.

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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Oct 30, 2009 2:58 pm

Captain Sinico wrote:I have some ideas to allow each player to have a light, which I have to strongly agree is a big plus in a system (though I should note, in response to Mike Bentley upthread, that the Judge's lights won't be backwards if the Judge isn't set up backwards...) Some systems have light individual modules connected to the main module on one side and a trigger module on the other; I have in mind here the BuzzerSystems.com systems. Do that, and you can do all the connections through phono plugs or whatever you're thinking of using. In fact, it should be possible to allow such a system to be used without the light modules, if people don't want to pay for them/set them up/some are broken or whatever, tough that's obviously going to require some other kind of readout to tell who buzzed. On a related note, one thing you could do is include a light in the trigger; for example, you could have a hand trigger with a transparent button that lights up when that player's buzzed.
One thing that you definitely should do is use LED's wherever possible. Systems with incandescent bulbs require frequent replacement of said bulbs, which are more fragile than LED's.
Ok, thanks for the information. I will look into that. I definitely plan to use LEDs, incandescents are fragile and eat up a lot of power.
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Re: interest in buzzer system?

Post by Joshua Rutsky » Sun Feb 28, 2010 11:06 pm

Just wondering about this myself in the last couple of days.

I would certainly want RCA plugs, or at the very least CAT-5 daisy chaining like BuzzerSystems uses. I much prefer individual lights, but I'd trade that against the ability to handle a large number of players (10-20) for a practice system. Different tones are really helpful, but not a must.

What I'd REALLY like to see is a system that uses retractable cable from the main unit to connect to the buzzers--something with either a manual or automatic retractor built into the control base, so that cables are neatly stored and not folded up in such a way as to encourage short-circuits or lost material. Or even better, bluetooth-enabled individual buzzers that would allow the system to accept as many units as the operator desires provided they have different codes. Someday, I hope the tech becomes cheap enough to make wireless buzzer sets realistic for the average team. Really, with the proliferation of RF-response units such as CPS or Classroom Response among schools, I wonder if it isn't possible for some clever programmer to write some software that would effectively make these units work as lock-out buzzers using a computer as a central unit?
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