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Madeleine Fort, Austin Greene, Halley Pollock-Muskin, and Aidan McLaughlin

catapult and used the computational model to determine what

force is required to pull the swing arm of the catapult in order

to have a projectile land a specified distance away. A user can

input the coordinates of a target and our model can compute the

tension required between the swing arm and tension arm, the

rotation of the base plate, and the position of the stop arm to

fire a projectile to those coordinates. The smart catapult then

uses motors to adjust the tension arm, base plate, and stop arm.

Our simulations align with our expected behavior of the system.

When comparing experimental data to what our model predicts,

we found that the landing distances followed similar parabolic

patterns but the experimental data had shorter distances. Our

goal is to build a catapult that incorporates a computational,

experimental, and physics model. The computational model is

based on the analytical model and we want the computational

model to reflect the physical system. Our work also serves as an

educational resource for others. It is an example of a project that

incorporates hands on experimentation, use of microprocessors,

and physics modeling in a compelling fashion that could recreated

in a classroom setting.

KeywordsArduino, Catapult, Modeling and Simulation.

I. I NTRODUCTION

A. Purpose

For our project we are modeling the behavior of a catapult

and constructing it according to the design shown in Figure

1. The system we are creating is able to take a user input

distance and projectile mass and determine what launch angle

is appropriate. We are building this catapult as an exercise

in combining mechanical and electrical components into a

working system and are using a physical catapult to validate

our analytical physics model and computer simulation. The

work were doing can be useful to any one considering the construction of an Arduino controlled catapult, which has potential

educational applications, such as an introduction to embedded

systems (Arduino) or experience in system integration.

Our goals are to gain a better understanding of physics by

going through the process of creating a computational model

based off of our analytical model of the system, and then

actually creating the catapult to see how well we can model

the physical system both analytically and computationally.

B. Rationale and Approach

We began by studying what examples of Arduino controlled

catapults we could find online and decided to model our

catapult on the predominant design we found[10] , displayed

in Figure 1. None of the documentation we have encountered

measures the accuracy of the final product, so we intend to

report on the performance of our catapult by comparing it

to our simulations of the system. Another improvement we

Arduino modifies the position of the motors that control the system, and a

fourth motor (not pictured above) in the rotating platform allows for another

dimension of motion.

rather than one as the designs seen online only have one.

C. Assumptions

The model ignores all forces that take energy from the

system. There is no air drag on the projectile post-release in the

model. We ignore friction in the catapult system, and assume

that the spring is linear. We also assume that the spring does

not hit itself when contracting. In reality, the spring is long

enough that, depending on the rotation of stop arm, it can hit

itself when contracting. We assume that the projectile hits the

ground and remains there instead of bouncing. The stop arm

and tension arm are presumed to not deflect or move in any

way once locked in place.

II.

A. Catapult Design

Our catapult design is based on a pre-existing Arduino

powered catapult[10] . The catapult is constructed out of laser

cut micro-density fiberboard (MDF). The stepper motor will

have an attachment to hold the swing arm down made out

of bent metal. All motors will be controlled by an Arduino.

We are using servos to adjust the angle of the stop arm and

tension arm and to hold the swing arm down. We chose servos

because they provide angular feedback. The tension arm allows

for auto-reloading. It can reduce tension in the spring and allow

the swing arm to be easily reset. See Figure 3 for a list of parts

used. The spring and the piece that holds down the swing arm

are both missing from the rendering, and the mounting plate

is missing.

spring 1 and spring 4 would suit our needs the best. We put

N

.

them in series to make a spring constant of 68.265 m

Mass

1.148 Kg

1.148 Kg

1.148 Kg

1.148 Kg

1.72 Kg

Spring

1

2

3

4

5

Rest Length

.0912m

.072m

.071m

.091m

.16m

Extended Length

.1743m

.1038m

.1118m

.1760m

.20m

TABLE II.

III.

Force Constant

N

138 m

N

367.9 m

N

323.83 m

N

135.06 m

N

425 m

S IMULATION

A. Software Design

Fig. 2.

Part

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

n/a*

n/a*

Description

Base plate

Bottle cap

Swing arm

Mounting plate

Servo motor

Stopping arm

Bar

Support beam

Tension beam

Eye screw

Side supports

Spring

Z bar

Material

MDF

Plastic

MDF

MDF

Steel

MDF

MDF

MDF

Steel

TABLE I.

Quantity

1

1

2

1

4

2

1

4

1

2

2

1

1

Notes

Servo underneath rotates this

Holds projectile

2 glued together

Clamped to a table

Arduino-controlled

Holds bar up, attached to servo

Halts progress of swing arm

2 on each side of base plate

Attached to servo, spring tensioner

On tension beam and swing arm

Servo located between the supports

Connects swing arm to tension arm

Holds swing arm down

* NOT PICTURED

Python physics simulation that uses the popular numpy and

scipy Python mathematics packages to solve the ordinary

differential equations of motion of the catapult and its

projectile. See Appendix A for the the equations we used to

model the system. The Python code takes as input the desired

distance the user would like to the projectile to land at and

calculates the right motor positions for the catapult. The

Python code uses an ODE solver to calculate the position,

velocity and acceleration at every time step. Using this

information, it finds the proper angle of the stopping arm and

the correct tension amount for the projectile to go the desired

distance. The program then calculates and outputs the distance

to turn each motor. This information is passed to a second

program written in Arduino C. The Arduino C program

moves the motors of the catapult to proper configuration. To

see our code, refer to Appendix B.

B. Specifying Materials

The first task in designing the catapult was determining

what spring constant would be appropriate for the scale of our

project considering what servos we are using. We made several

assumptions in our model. We assumed that the springs we are

using are linear. The catapult incorporates two springs in series,

and we assumed that the two springs have a motion equivalent

to one longer spring but with half the spring constant. The

model was built on the assumption that the spring does not

deflect. According to Hookes Law we can derive that

k = F/x

We checked and validated the spring constants of several

springs that we were considering. First, we labeled each of

our springs 1-5 in order to keep track of which was which

during the test. We found a projectile that weighs 1.148 kg to

test the springs with. Then we measured the rest length and

extension length of each spring using this known mass. At one

point, we had to increase the mass because one spring did not

extend using the first mass. See Table 2. Once this constant

was defined, we could model the rest of our system around

it. After experimentation, we decided that a combination of

B. Analysis

The Python program calculates how much the tension beam

rotation changes the spring length. We validate the model by

testing the actual trajectory versus the predicted trajectory.

We can predict the projectiles path based on the angle of

release and the force applied to the swing arm. Figure 5

shows the angular velocity over time. We derived this velocity

from angular acceleration. We solved for angular acceleration

using the moment of inertia and torque (see Appendix A).

We can find tension using Hookes law. The angle of release

is the angle between the stop arm and ground. Comparison

of the calculated landing distances and experimental landing

distances will show whether the model is accurate.

IV.

R ESULTS

We found after testing both the model and catapult, that the

two show minor discrepancies. See Fig 3.

Additionally, it seems that we must include other systems in

our model such as the friction of the throwing arm on its

axle and the spring as it compresses. With these changes, our

model would be even more accurate and would better reflect

experimental data.

3.5

Predicted

Experimental

3.0

2.5

2.0

1.5

1.0

0.5

0.0

0.51.4

1.6

1.8

2.0

2.2

2.4

2.6

2.8

3.0

3.2

The differences are accurate to what we expected to see between our model

without drag and the real world with drag. This data was collected as the

tension arm was held constant at 90 degrees

The difference between our predicted results and experimental results can be attributed to a few major factors. Primarily,

our model doesnt account for many retarding forces. The

model doesnt factor in drag, acting on either the projectile or

the catapult during its movement, friction between the catapult

arm and its axle, or the force absorbed by the stop arm as the

swing arm collides with it. All of these factors act to decrease

the energy of the projectile. If these forces were implemented

in the model, it would decrease the magnitude of the distance

the projectile would travel making the model more realistic.

Human error in experimental data collection, and the small

data set, could also attribute for the asymmetric shape of the

the experimental data.

A. Statistical Analysis

We measured a series of data points from our catapult and

compared it to our computer generated model. Our projectile

was a nylock nut weighing .003kg. Below is a table detailing

these measurements with the angles of the stop arm and tension

arm as well as the predicted distance and measured distance.

Stop

90

180

170

160

150

140

130

120

110

100

Tension

90

90

90

90

90

90

90

90

90

90

Predicted

1.65m

-.35m

-.089m

0.64m

1.68m

2.65m

3.21m

3.25m

2.79m

2.24m

Measured

2.06m

0m

-.24m

-.07m

.32m

1.18m

2.38m

2.88m

2.66m

2.13m

Difference

5.9%

-28.9 %

-787%

33%

93 %

25 %

14%

19 %

26%

6%

V. C ONCLUSIONS

This project was meant to describe the accuracy of our

computational model when considering a system such as our

catapult. As we can see, there is a slight difference between

our modelled distance and our actual distance. Our predicted

and experimental results are well within an order of magnitude

of each other. It seems likely that this discrepancy is due to

One next step that was considered but not pursued, might

have been to add a sensing system in catapult which would self

determine the location of the target. The most important next

step is to incorporate drag and other retardant forces into the

computer model. At the moment, we do not consider the drag

of the projectile because the velocity and physical size of the

projectile are very small. With the addition of a wind sensor we

could factor in wind speed and direction which would allow

us accuracy outside as well as indoors.

A PPENDIX A

D ERIVATION OF A NGULAR ACCELERATION OF S WING A RM

We know that angular acceleration is equal to the Torque

on the system over the moment of inertia. The first equation

describes the acceleration at the end of the swing arm with the

torque on the swing arm from the spring and the moment of

inertia of the swing arm.

T

I

This is the equation for the moment of inertia at the end of a

rod. H here is the total length of the swing arm (13in). W is

the width of the rod or (.5in). m is the mass of the projectile.

r is the radius of the projectile. M is the distance from the

projectile to the pivot point.

=

h2 + w2

+ mr2 + mR2

3

Substitute force for torque. D here is the distance from the

from the projectile to the location of the applied force.

I=

h2 +w2

3

F DSin

+ mr2 + mR2

springs. In retrospect, this in an area that could have been

improved upon.

F = kx

Plug in all the variables and simplify. This equation aids us in

finding the velocity of the projectile at the moment of release

so that we can determine its kinetic energy. We plug the

equation into the ODE solver and solve for and .

=

h2

3kxdsin

+ w2 + mr2 + mR2

A PPENDIX B

C ODE

A link to our code on github:

https://github.com/jagreene/SmartCatapult

A PPENDIX C

ACKNOWLEDGMENT

Zhenya, Thank you for being an awesome professor. We had

laughs and physics and honestly, what more is needed. Brian,

you are a pretty chill Ninja.

We would also like to thank the machine shop workers who

laser cut our pieces for the catapult. The turn around time was

magnificent and for that, we thank you.

R EFERENCES

[1]

[2]

[3]

[4]

[5]

[6]

[7]

[8]

[9]

[10]

RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2014.

Barista, Sinan. Investigating the Effect of the Swinging Arm Length on

the Horizontal Distance Travelled by an Object That Is Thrown from a

Catapult.Tedprints. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2014.

Brown, Douglas. Tracker Video Analysis and Modeling Tool for

Physics Education. Tracker. N.p., 2014. Web. 26 Apr. 2014.

https://www.cabrillo.edu dbrown/tracker/.

Catapult Physics Real World Physics Problems. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Feb.

2014

cej12. Arduino Catapult. Instructables.com N.P.,n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2014

Flueckiger, Patrick, and Roberts, David. Home (Physics of A Catapult.

Home (Physics of a Catapult).UNC at Chapel Hill, n.d. Web. 22 Feb.

2014.

Fong, Laurence, and Brian Self. Modeling the Dynamics of a Small

Catapult to Enhance Undergraduate Studies. ModelsandModeling.net.

California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, n.d. Web.

Ink, Winkle. Winkleink - Box of Wires. : Arduino Servo Catapult. N.p.,

n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2014.

Serway, Raymond A. Physics for Scientists and Engineers with Modern

Physics. London: Fort Worth, 2000. Print

UnusualTravis. Arduino Controlled Catapult. Instructables.com

N.P.,n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2014

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