Hands On Interactive

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We are a young company with an enthusiastic approach to exhibit design and our key personnel have had many years' experience in building interactive exhibits and gallery control equipment.


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Hands On Interactive

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About the company

We are a young company with an enthusiastic approach to exhibit design and our key personnel have had many years' experience in building interactive exhibits and gallery control equipment. Both directors have designed interactives for the National Museum of Science and Industry, as employees of the organisation.

Our company structure is very flexible allowing us to meet the needs of our customers in a cost-effective way. We have the expertise to be able to manage any project however large. We specialise in exhibit design, development, manufacture and consultation services. We can be used as consultants for materials research, exhibit prototyping, exhibit research, concept generation and project management.

The aim of the company is to deliver innovative exhibits to the public, which are excellent in both quality and reliability, through Museums and Science Centres. We use the latest development tools in order to meet this criterion and to swiftly guide us through the exhibit development stage. This way we are able to ensure that the finished product is safe, durable and able to meet the most stringent approval regulations e.g. CE. We have a successful record of producing high calibre interactive exhibits from early design concepts.

We offer a more tactile alternative to touch-screen based computer interactives, i.e. exhibits that look and respond like real objects and not audio-visual representations. Our solution is to combine the skills of the mechanical engineer with those of the electronics engineer and the computer programmer to create a hybrid interface (mechatronics).

Typical lever mechanismBy utilising dampers, dashpots and other mechanical control devices we can simulate all types of responses to a given input. The response from a lever, a knob, or a dial etc. is received by a microprocessor via an electronic device such as an optical encoder, a hall-effect transducer, or a strain gauge etc. This leads to fewer moving parts and enables greater standardisation of components within an exhibit, thus reducing maintenance and improving reliability.

We are not against the use of computer based and wholly mechanical exhibits, there is a place in Centres for these, but the best techniques must be applied to each interactive to get the best possible response from it. Clients should not be limited to using one or other of these techniques, but rather be offered the option of using any or all of them throughout a gallery or exhibition.

Hands On Interactive Ltd has the skills base to offer all of these techniques and will put forward the best solution for each exhibit and client, based on our experience and the information given.

With interactive exhibits becoming more popular, the retail world has seen their potential as selling aids. Hands On interactive Ltd have made several shop displays, some of which are interactive. To the retailer we offer the same standards of quality and reliability and are pleased to offer assistance with concepts, design and manufacture of exhibits for exhibitions or as shop displays.

Client list

Listed below are just a few of our clients:

Museums and Exhibition Centres

Design Companies

  • Benthiem
  • Casson Mann
  • Conran Design Group
  • Exhibition Plus
  • MET Studio

Retail Clients

Special Projects including product design

Exhibit List

Detailed below are some of the projects we have undertaken and completed. It is by no means a definitive list and does not fully represent our range of skills.

Natural History Museum

These three exhibits are part of a group of five we produced for the Natural History Museum Earth Galleries Update.

Mineral Properties

This exhibit shows hardness, density, opacity and magnetism in materials. A rolling ball is used to attract attention, to the physical property currently being demonstrated. The exhibit includes an archemedes screw and stainless steel tracking for guiding the ball. The demonstrations, lighting effects and the path of the ball are controlled by a microprocessor

Bubble Column

Viscosity demonstrated by three bubble columnsThis exhibit demonstrates fluid viscosity and stands 3 metres tall.

Three 2.5 metre long tubes, each filled with silicon fluid, are mounted to stainless steel housing. The solution in the first tube has a viscosity of 50cS, matched closely to that of water (1cS). The second and third tubes have viscosity's of 1000cS and 2500cS, respectively. Air is pumped into each of the tubes at the bottom and passes through the liquid at different rates, highlighting the differences between each tube. The fluid has been dyed in two of the tubes for purely aesthetic reasons.

The stainless steel case, which houses the pumping unit, was laser cut to shape using CADCAM manufacturing technology. The client wanted bubbles of about 0.75ltrs every 6 seconds in each tube, hence the pumping system was developed to meet this requirement and to enable each pump to last at least three years before requiring any servicing.

Mineral Marvels

The tank houses various rock samples, some of which phosphoresce after being subjected to UV light and others which fluoresce whilst being subjected to UV light. The samples are cyclically illuminated between UV, darkness and white light.

The exhibit is inherently safe since the tank itself uses a special laminated glass, which prevents any potentially harmful UVA and UVC radiation from escaping. An ozone (by product of UV lighting) control device is built-in, it measures levels of ozone and operates a ventilation system with a fail-safe override.

Mineral Marvels - Control

5 microprocessor-controlled gobos (rotating disc with an aperture) are used to sequence the lighting. These are flush mounted to the ceiling of the case. The gobos are controlled using an RS485 serial communication channel from a wall-box controller, which also allows local adjustment of all the transition times and duration periods. The gobos are switched on and off, synchronised and reset according to messages sent from the controller.

The system used here can be adapted or expanded (e.g. up to 256 gobos can be driven by a single wall-box controller) for use in other installations

Jersey Maritime Museum

Beaufort Scale Exhibit

An interactive exhibit designed and built for Jersey Maritime Museum to show the stages of the Beaufort scale of wind speed (force 1 – 12)

A large button electro-mechanically activates the exhibit. Once started, the exhibit cycles through a pre-set program lasting one minute, triggering the effects in sequence.

The effects simulate Beaufort’s description of wind speeds e.g. Force 1 Smoke drifts with the wind, small ripples at sea. Force 7 whole trees sway, heavy seas with breaking waves along the direction of the wind.

The exhibit is controlled via a microprocessor that triggers the effects as the sea drum revolves. The effects are created using a variety of different mechanisms:

  • A mains operated motor controls the sea drum
  • Synchronous motors are used to control the trees and smoke
  • A 12V dc motor controls a boat
  • The rest of the effects are controlled by 12V dc solenoids that magnetically latch

Our involvement consisted of mechanical design, electronic design, software programming and final production of the exhibit to fit into an existing lower case.

Explore @ Bristol

Interactive Sound Exhibits

Sound exhibits in BristolFour sound exhibits were required for a new exhibition. We used the latest digital audio technology to explore how sounds can be recorded, manipulated, organised and replayed. The cones contain speakers, illuminated buttons, and other things like an LCD computer screen, drum pads, dials and selectors. The screens allow the sounds to be visualised in real time with a digital oscilloscope. Big coloured buttons with legends light up to guide the visitor through each exhibit.

In this picture you can see the finishing touches being done to the wiring shortly before the exhibits were handed over. The panels are precision laser cut steel with a very durable nylon powder coating finish. The mounting bracket components are CNC milled from alloy. Each cone is lined with sound absorbing lead and foam sandwich to try to contain the sound to some extent. The design allows for very flexible positioning so that the simpler exhibits can be put within reach of younger children, and the more challenging ones higher up for older kids and adults. Even though the brackets have a graceful appearance they are strong enough to withstand people attempting to climb the exhibits. The cones are connected to the control box by armoured flexible conduits.

Collaborative Work with Artists

The Fan

Fan with extending wingsThis is an art piece manufactured for the artist Darren Almond and was displayed in the White Cube art gallery in St James’s Park.

The fan is 4 metres in diameter when in its idle state and spins at 10 rpm. The blades are all mounted on carriages that are fixed to linear slides allowing the blades to be driven in and out by motors mounted within the hub. The drive to the wings is via a timing belt.

The fan spins normally for 4 minutes and then goes into its cycle of extending each of the blades into the corners of the room as they pass. When in this state the blade tips effectively follow the outline of the room. Since the fan has three blades, the blades are always moving in different directions or are at different positions at any time, giving the illusion, at first glance, of chaotic motion.

The artist description:

"The blades appear to be reaching for the corners of the room as if they are trying to escape".

Our involvement consisted of mechanical and electronic design and manufacture. The art piece was produced from a computer simulation of a fan in its cycling state.

Chair Plinth

This was made for the artist Janek Schaefer. It consists of an aluminium plinth 3m x 1m x .5m onto which four wire frame chair representations are mounted. Each chair is linked to a motor that spins them on one leg. The exhibit uses a PIR device to count people and upon reaching twenty starts the chairs spinning for approximately 2 minutes. When the chairs stop a sound store plays the sound of something sighing. The piece was displayed at the RIBA as part of the 'Fused' exhibition.

Flip Clocks

We modified 10 clocks for the artist Darren Almond. Each clock is designed and fitted with a break beam sensor mechanism to detect the flap falling. This triggers a sound store that plays an enhanced recording of the flap falling but greatly amplified.

Giant Flip Clock

This is fitted with a similar mechanism as above, but the clock is scaled up many times. The sound was even more amplified with a 100 watt stereo amp fitted inside the clock. The clock was on display at the Royal Academy of Art as part of the Sensations exhibition.

Video Egg

A giant truncated egg ( 1.5m high 1.4m dia), made for the artist Max Wigram. The egg contains a 21" monitor facing the ceiling, a VHS video player an amplifier and speakers. The artist is going to produce videos with restful music to be played by the egg with the images on the screen loosely projected on to the ceiling and walls to give a new experience to music listening. The egg has been padded with fire retardant foam and covered in black Lycra.

Refurbished/updated Exhibits

Cell Reproduction

An existing exhibit in the Wellcome Museum. We repaired the mechanics of the exhibit and redesigned the control electronics to utilise a TMS 7000 series chip as specified by the Museum. The exhibit was reinstalled in the Museum, remounted with bolt on brackets for ease of removal for maintenance, and a new perspex case fitted.

Cell Nucleus

An existing exhibit in the Wellcome Museum. We redesigned the control electronics to utilise a TMS 7000 chip as specified by the Museum. The processor controls approximately 1600 LED’s giving the appearance of the lights moving in several directions at once, the LED’s are mounted around a bank of four monitors. When the monitors are activated (by a break beam sensor) a video explaining the function of the cell nucleus starts, the LED’s change speed and the number alight changes.

Retail Exhibits/Displays

Focal point interactive

This is an interactive designed and manufactured in association with the Conran Design Group for Boots The Chemists, it consists of five interactive elements contained in one main structure.

The five interactive elements of the focal point interactive are:

  • Height scanner; this measures the height of a child, range 50 - 120cm
  • Voice transformer; children talk into a microphone and can change the pitch of their voice from deep to high (Darth Vader to Pinky and Perky).
  • Feely boxes; the structure has three feely boxes which allow the children to guess by touch what is inside a button then clears the screen to see if their guess is correct.
  • Tube Fone; essentially a long length of plastic tubing which allows a child to talk to a friend at the other end.
  • Sound effects; the exhibit has a tunnel with sensors at each end, as the children walk through a sound is played.

Eight of these exhibits were made for Boots Super stores to launch a new range of educational toys and children’s clothing

Our involvement consisted of ideas generation, design and development of all the interactive elements, detail design of the structure and complete manufacture.

About the company

Our Projects

Company Brochure online

The business cards


last Update 21/11/01