As hackers, we naturally see the beauty of technology. We often talk in terms of the aesthetics of a particular hack, or the elegance of one solution over another, and we can marvel at the craftsmanship involved in everything from a well-designed PCB to a particularly clever reverse-engineering effort. Actually using technology to create art is something that’s often harder for us to appreciate, though, and looking at technological art from the artist’s side can be pretty instructive.
Cory Collins is an animator and artist with a long history of not only putting tech to work to create art, but also using it as the subject of his pieces. Cory’s work has brought life to video games, movies, and TV shows for years; more recently, he has turned his animation skills to developing interactive educational material for medical training. He has worked in just about every physical and digital medium imaginable, and the characters and scenes he has created are sometimes whimsical, sometimes terrifying, but always engaging.
Cory will stop by the Hack Chat to talk about what he has learned about technology from the artist’s perspective. Join us as we dive into the creative process, look at how art influences technology and vice versa, and learn how artistic considerations can help us address the technical problems every project eventually faces.
Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
We love to see LEDs combined in all shapes and sizes, so we were especially ticked when we caught a glimpse of [Debra Ansell]’s (also known as [GeekMomProjects]) interlocking triangular TriangleLightPanel system glowing on our screen. This unusually shaped array seemed to be self supporting and brightly glowing, so we had to know more.
The TriangleLightPanel is a single, triangular, light panel (refreshing when everything is in the name, isn’t it?). Each panel consists of a single white PCBA holding three side-firing SK6812 LEDs aimed inward, covered by transparent acrylic. When the LEDs are doing their thing, the three-position arrangement and reflective PCB surface does diffuses the light sufficiently to illuminate each pane — if not perfectly evenly — very effectively. Given the simple construction it’s difficult to imagine how they could be significantly improved.
The real trick is the mechanical arrangement. Instead of being connected with classic Dupont jumper wires and 0.1″ headers or some sort of edge connector, [Debra] used spring contacts. But if you’re confused by the lack of edge-plated fingers think again; the connectors are simple plated strips on the back. There is a second PCBA which effectively acts as wires and a surface to mount the spring contacts on, which is bolted onto the back of the connected leaves to bridge between each node. The tiles need to be mechanically connected in any case, so it’s a brilliantly simple way to integrate the electrical connection with the necessary mechanical one.
It’s easy to get caught up in a build and forget that the final version usually needs some sort of enclosure, especially things with sensitive electronics in them. The [Director of Legal Evil] at the LVL1 Louisville Hackerspace notes as much in his recent radio build. It seems as though the case was indeed an afterthought, but rather than throwing it in a nondescript black project enclosure it was decided to turn the idea of a project enclosure itself inside-out.
The radio build is based on an SI4732 radio receiver which is a fairly common radio module and is easily adaptable. It needs a microcontroller to run though, so a Maple STM32 platform was chosen to do all of the heavy lifting. The build includes a screen, some custom analog controls, and a small class D audio amplifier, but this is the point it begins to earn its name: the Chaos Radio. While playing around with the project design in CAD, a normal design seemed too bland so one was chosen which makes the radio look like the parts are exploding outward from what would have been a more traditional-style enclosure.
While the project includes a functioning radio receiver, we have to complement the creator for the interesting display style for this particular set of hardware. It can get boring designing the same project enclosures time after time, so anything to shake things up is often welcomed especially when it puts all of the radio components on display like this. In fact, it’s reminiscent of some of [Dmitry]’s projects, an artist known for deconstructing various common household appliances like this CD Player.
For the price of a toothbrush and a small motor with an offset weight, a bristlebot is essentially the cheapest robot that can be built. The motor shakes the toothbrush and the bristle pattern allows the robot to move, albeit in a completely random pattern. While this might not seem like a true robot that can interact with its environment in any meaningful way, [scanlime] shows just how versatile this robot – which appears to only move randomly – can actually be used to make art in non-random ways.
Instead of using a single bristlebot for the project, three of them are built into one 3D printed flexible case where each are offset by 120°, and which can hold a pen in the opening in the center. This allows them to have some control on the robot’s direction of movement. From there, custom software attempts to wrangle the randomness of the bristlebot to produce a given image. Of course, as a bristlebot it is easily subjected to the whims of its external environment such as the leveling of the table and even the small force exerted by the power/communications tether.
With some iterations of the design such as modifying the arms and control systems, she has an interesting art-producing robot that is fairly reliable for its inherently random movements. For those who want to give something like this a try, the code for running the robot and CAD files for 3D printing the parts are all available on the project’s GitHub page. If you’re looking for other bristlebot-style robots that do more than wander around a desktop, be sure to take a look at this line-following bristlebot too.
Swiss artist and designer [Jürg Lehni] was commissioned to create an artwork called Four Transitions which has been installed in the HeK (House of electronics Arts) in Basel. This piece visually depicts the changes in technologies used by public information displays, such as those in airports and train stations. As the title of the installation suggests, four different technologies are represented:
Flip-Dot, early 1960s, 15 each 7 x 7 modules arrayed into a 21 x 35 pixel panel
LCD, 1970s and 1980s, two each 36 x 52 modules arrayed into 52 x 76 pixel panel
LED, 2000s, six each 16 x 16 RGB modules arrayed into a 32 x 48 pixel panel
TFT, current, one 24 inch module, 1200 x 1920 pixel panel
The final work is quite striking, but equally interesting is the summary of the the design and construction process that [Jürg] provides on Twitter. We hope he expands this into a future, more detailed writeup — if only to learn about reverse engineering the 20 year old LCD controller whose designer was in retirement. His tweets also gives us a tantalizing glimpse into the software, controllers, and interconnections used to drive all these displays. There is quite a lot of interesting engineering going on in the background, and we look forward to future documentation from [Jürg].
You may recognize [Jürg] as the creator of Hektor, a graffiti output device from 2002 which we’ve referenced over the years in Hackaday. Check out the short video below of the displays in operation, and be sure to unmute the volume so you can listen to the satisfying sound of 735 flip-dots changing state. [Jürg] also gives in interview about the project in the second video below. Thanks to [Niklas Roy] for sending in the tip about this most interesting exhibition.
[Northern Geometry] has played with this idea before, but shares some refinements and tips on getting the best results. One suggestion is to begin by securely taping the 3D printed frame to a smooth polypropylene board as a backer. Giving the cured resin a smooth surface is important to get the right look, and since resin will not bond to the polypropylene, it can be used as a backer to get that done.
Once the frame is mounted, pour a small amount of epoxy into each cavity and ensure it gets into every corner, then let it cure. The thin bottom layer of resin will seal things as well as create a glassy-smooth backing that is the perfect foundation for finishing the piece with colored resin as needed.
Once that is done, and everything has had plenty of time to cure fully, just pop the piece off the board. Check it out in the video embedded below, where [Northern Geometry] shows the process from start to finish.
There’s plenty to love about antiques, from cars, furniture, to art. While it might be a little bit of survivorship bias, it’s easy to appreciate these older things for superior quality materials, craftsmanship, or even simplicity. They are missing out on all of our modern technology, though, so performing “restomods” on classics is a popular activity nowadays. This antique map of Paris, for example, is made of a beautiful hardwood but has been enhanced by some modern amenities as well.
At first the creator of this project, [Marc], just wanted to give it some ambient lighting, but it eventually progressed over the course of two years to have a series of Neopixels hidden behind it that illuminate according to the current sun and moon positions. The Neopixels get their instructions from an ESP8266 which calculates these positions using code [Marc] wrote himself based on the current date. Due to the limitations of the ESP8266 it’s not particularly precise, but it gets the job done to great effect.
To improve on the accuracy, [Marc] notes that an ESP32 could be used instead, but we can give the ESP8266 a pass for now since the whole project is an excellent art installation even if it is slightly off on its calculations. If you need higher accuracy for tracking celestial objects, you can always grab a Raspberry Pi too.