The Sensation Station: A Tabletop Sensory Activity Center

Designers: Christina Gancayco, Sophia Kim, Diane Shao, Maggie Smith

Client Coordinators: Melanie Oujua, Nancy Hoopingarner, Stephen Dovenitz

Supervising Professor: Larry Bohs


Figure 1. The Sensation Station.

Figure 1. The Sensation Station.


Students at a local Durham high school enjoy activities that elicit sensory responses; however, many have a limited range of motion that prevents them from using commercially available sensory toys. The goal of this project is to develop an interactive sensory center that provides a graded sensory experience based on intensity of arm and wrist motion. The Sensation Station contains three sensory stations that are controlled by Wii Nunchuks. The measured acceleration from the Wii Nunchuks causes varied sensory responses through visual and tactile outputs, while speakers provide auditory stimulation. This device teaches cause-and-effect relationships to students by providing graded sensory experiences based on their movements.



The Sensation Station encourages the clients to move, and enhances their understanding of cause-and-effect relationships. The station also fulfills the need for an adaptable activity center that is accessible for all students and stimulates the students’ senses. The clients’ teacher states, “[The students] are used to button switches so this toy will get them to move. The vibrating controller is a nice touch, and the straps are long enough to fit over their splints.”



The Sensation Station (Figure 1) is a tabletop sensory activity center with three individual stations. Sensory outputs include a pom-pom tube, motorized platform, and a series of LEDs.  Each station also has a control box with an Arduino microcontroller, external user controls, and a Wii Nunchuk controller with a Neoprene strap.  Two of the three stations also have a rumble controller that provides an optional tactile response.  Each station is powered by a 12V/2A source plugged into a surge protector located beneath the table.  Finally, the Sensation Station includes a set of speakers and an MP3 player to provide musical stimulation for the students.

Each station receives sensory input from the Nunchuk’s internal ADXL330 3-axis accelerometer.  Each Nunchuk is covered in a plastic sleeve with a Neoprene strap, which secures the controller to the student’s hand or arm if they cannot hold it independently.

The pom-pom tube consists of a fan topped with an acrylic funnel.  The fan is housed in a wooden box attached to the tabletop, and the acrylic funnel contains multi-colored pom-poms.  Amplified analog output from the Arduino microcontroller, based on user acceleration values, causes the pom-poms to dance around in the funnel, similar to popping corn.  The motorized platform includes a base with an attached stuffed animal.  A motor within a box below the platform spins at a higher speed with increasing user acceleration.  The LEDs change colors based upon the acceleration, with one color indicating limited motion and another representing a maximum acceleration value.

Figure 2. Client using the Sensation Station.

Figure 2. Client using the Sensation Station.

The Arduino microcontroller communicates between the Wii Nunchuk controller and the sensory outputs.  It scales the Nunchuk’s acceleration values, providing an analog voltage, which is amplified to drive the sensory devices.  The user controls include a power switch, a difficulty knob, and on two stations a rumble switch.  The power switch turns each station on or off independently.  The difficulty knob sets the scaling factor for the Arduino’s output voltage. The low setting has a higher scaling factor for a student who may have limited motion, whereas the high setting has a lower scaling factor, making larger sensory response more difficult to achieve. The rumble switch controls the power sent to the optional rumble motor, which provides a tactile vibratory response using a small DC motor with an offset shaft.

The speakers and MP3 player attached to the tabletop provide an optional auditory experience for the students.  This system is independent of the other circuitry, and is controlled by the teacher according to her students’ preferences.  Figure 2 shows the a student using the Sensation Station.  The parts cost for the device is $635.


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