Fossil "Hack the Tins"

Fossil approached SMU months before their global celebration of their 30th Anniversary, asking us to help them celebrate 30 years of design inspiration and innovation by generating conversation around the 30th Anniversary watch tins and engaging customers and fans on social media. Fossil provided us six unique watch tins and their accompanying personas, each in the shape of a 50s or 60s-era vehicle. We were tasked with thinking up all the different ways we could "hack" the tins. Well, what if the cars tins could move? What if these little watch tins came to life? We retrofitted each car with custom electronics and parts that turned them all into RC cars complete with remotes set inside traditional box tins. To help promote the event through social media efforts, we created a carnival-style race board with each car tied to a unique hashtag that could be used to move each car forward in the race with each tweet. Fossil took the project deliverables and displayed it at their in-house 30th Anniversary celebration at Fossil Headquarters in Richardson, Texas.

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Presentation Deck

The Ask and Inspiration

Fossil's thirty year history as a lifestyle brand is grounded in authentic vintage and classic design. Fossil as a brand is all about a sense of optimism, a passion for creativity, an appreciation of authenticity, and a love of community. Fossil's tins are a unique brand asset, housing all watches, jewelry, and some wallets sold by the company. Each tin carries a unique design and becomes a reusable collectible. Fossil promotes a DIY culture through it's lifestyle blogs and social media. For their 30th anniversary Americana-inspired Fall collection, Fossil pursued a theme called "On the Open Road," reminiscing on the past and journeying into the future. With a spirit of freedom and authentic adventure, Fossil created special tins stamped in the shape of cars of the '50s and '60s to house their Fall collection products.

Each tin comes with a backstory and is designed to guide you through an old-school adventure. Fossil wanted us to expand on the personalities of each car, write a tagline, and create a mood board for each car. Each car needed to have new features that made it more appealing and interesting than a regular watch tin. Our first day, we met with a number of brand, marketing, and social media managers at Fossil. Together, we did an initial brainstorm of ideas we could conceivably implement within our 10-day design time. Fossil provided us with extra tins, items for inspiration, pictures, and many other resources so that the project would fall in line with their brand guidelines. From our research, we decided the best way to promote Fossil's vintage style while preserving the car tin's use is if we repurposed them as RC cars and bringing each tin to life. Secondly, to help on the social media front, we went after a distinctly old-school American experience: going to the fair or carnival to shoot water at a target to make your horse go faster than everyone else and winning a prize. Our version was going to be Twitter-powered and features the car tins as competitors instead of horses.

Building Remote-controlled Cars

The RC cars presented a unique challenge because of the size of the watch tins. Finding electronics that fit inside was difficult, but we succeeded by finding the most efficient way to place parts within the chassis to minimize wasted space. All the cars were drawn up in 3D CAD models, and custom braces, mounting brackets, supports, and other parts were all 3D-printed. Each car is driven by two small DC motors that help it go forwards and backwards as well as turn. Each car also has a special feature in its operation that makes it unique from the other cars. The taglines we came up with for each car were:

Squad Car - "The street avenger."
Racer - "Never going, always gone."
Future - "Taking you to new heights."
Cruiser - "Ride low, stay cool."
Taxi Cab - "Taking you and your money further."
Wagon - "Feature film and family fun."

The squad car obviously had to have sirens and flashing lights. The racer had a higher gear ratio so it would move faster that the other cars. For the future car, we wanted to mount the tin onto a hobby quadcopter, but we quickly found that the aluminum tin was too much weight for the quadcopter to maintain stable flight. We scrapped the idea and instead stuck 6 wheels on the future car to make it look like a Jetsons-esque tank car. The cruiser got hydraulics added so that it would go up and down as it drove. The taxi cab required coins to operate, and the wagon has a musical horn. Since the cars were to be remote controlled, we needed to create a remote. It was quickly decided that the controllers should be designed so they could replace the top of a square Fossil tin. Inspiration was taken from the classic Atari 2600 controller to employ the vintage style of Fossil brand. Each of the cars communicates with the remotes through xBee Zigbee radios operating with custom Arduino code.

Building a Hashtag-Powered Carnival Race Board

The Twitter-powered Race Board was more complex to design than our initial expectations. The board itself was created using a variety of tools in the woodshop, and the sprockets, pulley mounts, motor mounts, and car mounts were all custom-designed and 3D-printed. All the cars are driven by stepper motors, with the length of the track divided down into 40 units, with each unit representing one tweet sent to the board. All the motors interface with an Arduino which receives triggers from a Raspberry Pi running scripts written in Python and C++ that continuously poll Twitter's API for tweets matching the hashtags we created (i.e. #fossiltaxicab, #fossilracer, etc). The board received a vintage paint job, making it an attractive centerpiece dedicated to increasing Fossil's 30th Anniversary social media presence.

The Experience

Writing the code for the Twitter-powered race board was a challenge to me, because it was my very first time working with Raspberry Pi, the Twitter API, and Amazon AWS. Understanding how all the different snippets of code interface and interact to translate a tweet into a motor movement on the board was a difficult but not insurmountable task. We did our best and were able to get a demo of the board running using randomly generated triggers on the Raspberry Pi. We had a lot of trouble getting tweets to move cars within a reasonable reaction time after someone posted a tweet; our best guess is that Twitter's API prioritizes when it caches new tweets, and unpopular hashtags, at least at the time of our testing, didn't get processed quickly enough to become searchable data for the API. I learned a lot of skills in rapid prototyping, taught myself CAD with the aid of peers, and got really good at making mistakes early and failing fast. We had a lot of late nights and a lot of fun, and I honestly think I learned more in those 10 days of May in terms of practical skills than I had learned the semester prior to the IDE.