Graham John created Handbell Stadium and Handbell Manager (this latter allows an action controller to send keystrokes to virtual ringing software) and updated these to respond to the group’s progress. Simon Gay created the first eBell prototype using the Arduino processor and a wooden handle, wrote the initial software interface for it, and created a Mac version of Handbell Manager. Tim Hart and Ben Johnson created initial designs for the 3D printed handbell and continued to refine them to safely house the Arduinos, with improvements from feedback from first prototypes. Tim continues to manage the packaging and shipping of the eBells.
The state of simulated handbell ringing has been static since Graham John first created Handbell Manager nearly 11 years ago. Each member of this group has approached the problem of how to realistically simulate actual handbell ringing in a virtual environment from a different angle. They have brought those different perspectives together to deliver a significant advance in a short period of time. The way they have worked together is significant – as a template for how to successfully deliver a project, this is a good one.
The current software iteration still requires a desktop or laptop computer. There are now experiments with the minimum hardware required to be able to use eBells. The group continues to refine their product according to feedback from users and testers. In addition, changes to operating system environments require continuous incremental development to the software that is built into the eBells. Finally the group are still working towards a more robust software environment, as well as a long term production and delivery process.
Although prototype eBells have been floating around for several months in limited circles, they have only become more widely available to ringers recently, and the group has shipped about 100 sets thus far. For this reason, the full impact of this product is still yet to come. Although I have been a reasonably frequent user of both Ringing Room and Handbell Stadium (as well as various versions of Abel over the years), I could not bear to contemplate virtual ringing of any length using keystrokes alone. My first serious go using an early eBell prototype was a quarter peal, and my first go using an early production version was a peal. It felt closer to ‘normal’ handbell ringing than anything else I have ever tried. I believe that they are game-changing in a virtual environment.
Although the e-bells are cheaper per bell than any single handbell, the entry price of £90 plus postage for pair is not trivial. The complete transparency of the group’s process mitigates this – they have also made available the designs, and also various ways to ‘build your own’, so that it is possible to build a workable Arduino-driven set of e-bells for less than £30.
This project has gone from Zero to Hero in less than a year. From some individual ideas, a group of individuals pooled their talents to create several experimental iterations, followed by working prototypes, a workable manufacturing process, and thence into small scale production.