Lesson 6 - One Dimensional Trajectories

This lesson, part of a "fictional" set of physics lessons, created as a demo of JavaScript animation of SVG. The subject is the physics of simple one-dimensional trajectories. The demonstration uses a "high striker" featured at carnivals and fairs. The artwork was created in Adobe Illustrator, exported as SVG and then hand-edited to add the JavaScript.

The lesson consists of a HTML page which comprises the text of the lesson, laid out in standard HTML5. The HTML has two main div elements. One contains the HTML markup that is the text of the lesson. The other has a single HTML object tag that loads the actual SVG. The SVG could just be placed inline within the HTML, but for ease of editing and maintenance it is easier to load it with the object tag. One aspect to note is that the HTML div has a large (10em) margin where the SVG is rendered. The "SVG" div is positioned absolutely so it gets composited on top of the HTML and appears to be beside the HTML when in fact it is on top of it, only it is in the margin of the HTML.

The SVG in turn loads the JavaScript with the SVG script object. Again, the script could be inline, but it is easier to maintain if separate. Also, the script could have been within the HTML, but it would be a little more convoluted to get a handle to the SVG's document object. Also, note that the SVG script object uses xlink:href instead of the src attribute of the HTML script tag.

<script type="text/javascript" xlink:href="../js/lesson6.js" />

The SVG's root svg element looks like this:

<svg version="1.1" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" xmlns:xlink="http://www.w3.org/1999/xlink"
     x="0px" y="0px" width="280px" height="1024px" viewBox="-20 0 273.268 721.3623" onload="on_load(evt)"/>

A few points to note. First, we need to declare the xlink namespace because it is needed for SVG's script element. Seond we declare the view position , which could be omitted as (0,0) is the default. And the height and width, which are essential. We also declare the viewBox, which are the real-world coordinates that are mapped to the corners of th height and width box we declare.

This is needed because Illustrator creates all drawings in points and has no concept of coordinate systems, so we determine the coordinates of the corner of the drawing in Illustrator's point (page) based coordinate systems and declare the viewBox with those coordinates. Fortunately, we don't have to do that. The script used to export the code from Illustrator (see the Colophon for details) calculates the values and writes out the viewBox for us.

Finally, note that we have also set up our SVG to receive the "onload" event . The handler on_load will be called with a SVG event object (which is slightly different than a vanilla HTML event) when the SVG section of our EPUB has been loaded.

The SVG itself is fairly straightforward. The various pieces, the high striker boady, labels, etc. are all fairly normal. Two key elements are that the "traveller" (the weight that moves up and down) and the sedgehammer are separate groups so we can easily animate them. Now, let's look at the JavaScript itself.

First, the handler for the onload event:

function on_load(evt) {
        svgDoc = getSVGDoc(evt.target);

        sledge    = svgDoc.getElementById('Sledge');
        traveller = svgDoc.getElementById('Traveller');
        info      = svgDoc.getElementById('Velocity');
        bellSound = window.parent.document.getElementById("audio-bell");
        hitSound  = window.parent.document.getElementById('audio-hit');

    function  getSVGDoc(node) {
        if (node.nodeType == 9)
            return node;
            return node.ownerDocument;

First, we call getSVGDoc to get the SVG document object. Usually, the event object passed to our handler is an HTML node which whose owner document is the SVG document, but in older browsers it was sometimes the SVG document itself.

Then we we search for three special SVG elements we want for the animation: the traveller, the sledge and a text object we will use to output information about the animation as it occurs. We also search for two audio elements so we can play sounds. Note that these audio elements are actually in the HTML body, NOT in the SVG. Audio support in SVG is a little iffy from browser to browser so it is easier and more consistent to put the audio in the HTML and call those elements from our JavaScript.

The next important piece is the handler for the mousedown on the sledge, which we use to trigger the animation:

<g id="Sledge" onmousedown="OnMouseDownSledge(evt)">

And the handler looks like this:

function OnMouseDownSledge(evt) {
         if (traveling == false) {
            traveling = true;
            setSledge( -90 );

            startTime = new Date();

            initialVelocity = 13.85;


            intervalID = window.setInterval('next_update()', 16);

We first check that we aren't already in the middle of an animation - if not we set the flag to indicate that we have started animating. Then we rotate the sledgehammer to hit the fulcrum and start the traveler upwards. We record the start time, set the initial velocity to an arbitrary constant that is just sufficient to ring the bell. Then we call the HTML audio element to make the sound of the sledge hitting the fulcrum. Finally, we call the browser's setInterval function, telling it to call the next_update function every 16 milliseconds. The is effectively telling it to call as often as it can. It will continue to call that function until we call the clearInterval function on the browser and pass the intervalID returned by the call to setInterval.

The setSledge function is quite simple:

function setSledge( angle ) {
        sledge.setAttribute("transform", "rotate("+ angle + " " + sledgeAnchorX + " " + sledgeAnchorY + ")");

It just sets the transform attribute of the sledge's group element to rotate the sledge around the sledgeAnchorX and sledgeAnchorY.

All the real work happens in the next_update method:

function next_update () {
        elapsed = (Date.now() - startTime.getTime()) / 1000.0;

        velocity = initialVelocity - deltaTime * gravity;
        posY = elapsed * initialVelocity - 0.5 * gravity * elapsed * elapsed;
        if (posY >= 9.7) {
            posY = 9.7;
        else if (posY <= 0 ) {
            posY = 0;
            traveling = false;
            window.clearInterval( intervalID );

        if (deltaTime > 1.0)

        traveller.setAttribute("y", posY + 0.4778 );
        info.firstChild.nodeValue = ( 't: ' + elapsed.toFixed(1) + ' v: ' 
                + velocity.toFixed(1) + ' y: ' + posY.toFixed(1));

We first fetch the current time and get the elapsed time in seconds since the animation started. We use that to calculate current velocity and from that the current y position of the traveler. If the traveler has reached the belll, we make sure it doesn't go too far upwards and call the HTML audio element to ring the bell.

If, on the other hand, the traveler has reached the bottom, we ensure it doesn't drop further, set the animation flag to false and call the HTML audio element to make the thump sound again. The we call the browser with the intervalID to stop the calls to next_update.

Note that we also check to see if one second has passed since the animation started and, if so, we put the sledge back where it started.

Finally, we set the traveler's position and update the info text.

And that's it! Click on this link and see the animation in all it's traveling glory!