From the first time humans crawled into a cave with a bit of charcoal to sketch scenes from the world around them, artists have been searching for new media and new ways to express themselves. Natural products ruled for thousands of years, with pigments stolen or crafted from nature as well as wood, ivory, bone, and stone for carving. Time and experience guided our ancestors to new and better formulations and different materials, to the point that what qualifies as art and what we’d normally think of as technology have, in many cases, blended into one, with the artist often engineering projects of mammoth proportions and breathtaking beauty.
Aaron Oppenheimer co-founded color+light, a company that specializes in large-scale custom art installations for companies like Google, Nike, and Nissan. One of their projects, the “Oddwood Tree”, is displayed alongside other gigantic art pieces at Area15 on the Las Vegas strip. His most recent project, fluora, is a digital houseplant, with addressable LEDs in the leaves that can be controlled by a smartphone app or respond to stimuli in the environment.
Aaron will join us on the Hack Chat to discuss the LED as artistic medium. Join us as we learn what it takes to make enormous art that’s strong enough to interact with yet responsive enough to be engaging.
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 live in a strange time indeed. People who once eschewed direct interactions with fellow humans now crave it, but to limited avail. Almost every cashier at the few stores deigned essential enough to maintain operations are sealed away behind plastic shields, with the implication that the less time one spends lingering, the better. It’s enough to turn an introvert into an extrovert, at least until the barriers are gone.
We get the idea that the need to reach out and touch someone is behind [Niklas Roy]’s “Please Leave a Message”, an interactive art installation he set up in the front window of his Berlin shop. Conveniently located on a downtown street, his shop is perfectly positioned to attract foot traffic, and his display is designed to catch the eye and perhaps crack a smile. The device consists of a large wooden easel holding the guts from an old X-Y pen plotter, an Arduino and an ESP-8266, and a couple of drivers for the plotter’s steppers. Passers-by are encouraged to scan a QR code that accesses a web page served up by the ESP-8266, where they can type in a brief message. The plotter dutifully spells it out on a scroll of paper for all to see, using a very nice font that [Niklas] designed to be both readable and easily plotted. The video below shows it in action with real people; it seems to be a crowd-pleaser.
Gears are fairly straightforward way to couple rotational motion, and the physics topics required to understand them are encountered in an entry level physics classroom, not a university degree. But to really dig down to the root of how gears transfer motion may be somewhat more complex than it seems. [Bartosz Ciechanowski] put together an astonishingly good interactive teaching tool on gears, covering the fundamentals of motion up through multi-stage gear trains.
The post starts at the beginning – not “how to calculate a gear ratio” – but how does rotational motion work at all. The illustrations help give the reader an intuitive sense for how the rate of rotation is measured and what that measurement actually represents in the real world. From there [Bartosz] builds up to describing how two discs touching edge to edge transfer motion and the relationship of their size on that process. After explaining torque he has the fundamentals in place to describe why gears have teeth, and why they work at all.
Well written explanatory copy aside, the real joy in this post is the interactivity. Each concept is illustrated, and each illustration is interactive. Images are accompanied by a slider which lets you adjust what’s shown, either changing the speed of a rotating gear or advancing the motion of two teeth interlocking. We found that being able to move through time this way really helped form an intuitive understanding of the concepts being discussed. This feels like the dream of interactive multimedia textbooks come to life.
Robots have certainly made the world a better place. Virtually everything from automobile assembly to food production uses a robot at some point in the process, not to mention those robots that can clean your house or make your morning coffee. But not every robot needs such a productive purpose. This one allows you to punch the world, which while not producing as much physical value as a welding robot in an assembly line might, certainly seems to have some therapeutic effects at least.
The IoT Planet Puncher comes to us from [8BitsAndAByte] who build lots of different things of equally dubious function. This one allows us to release our frustration on the world by punching it (or rather, a small model of it). A small painted sphere sits in front of a 3D-printed boxing glove mounted on a linear actuator. The linear actuator is driven by a Raspberry Pi. The Pi’s job doesn’t end there, though, as the project also uses a Pi camera to take video of the globe and serve it on a webpage through which anyone can control the punching glove.
The exhibit that [Niklas Roy] came up with is called Wasserorgel, or “water organ”, an apt name for the creation. Built as part of a celebration of industry in Germany, the display was built in the small town of Winnenden, home to Kärcher, a cleaning equipment company best known for their line of pressure washers in the distinctive yellow cases. Eight of the company’s electric pressure washers were featured in the Wasserorgel, which shot streams of water and played notes in response to passersby tickling the sturdy and waterproof 3D-printed keyboard. The show was managed by an Arduino with a MIDI shield, which controlled the pressure washers via solid state relays and even accepted input from an anemometer to shut down the show if it got too windy, lest the nearby [Frau Dimitrakudi] be dampened.
The video below shows how engaging the Wasserorgel was during its weeks-long run in the town market square; there’s also one in German with build details. And while we can’t recall seeing pressure washers in public art before, we do remember one being used as the basis of a DIY water-jet cutter.
[pepelepoisson]’s Miroir Magique (“Magic Mirror”) is an interesting take on the smart mirror concept; it’s intended to be a playful, interactive learning tool for kids who are at an age where language and interactivity are deeply interesting to them, but whose ceaseless demands for examples of spelling and writing can be equally exhausting. Inspiration came from his own five-year-old, who can neither read nor write but nevertheless has a bottomless fascination with the writing and spelling of words, phrases, and numbers.
The magic is all in the simple interface. Magic Mirror waits for activation (a simple pass of the hand over a sensor) then shows that it is listening. Anything it hears, it then displays on the screen and reads back to the user. From an application perspective it’s fairly simple, but what’s interesting is the use of speech-to-text and text-to-speech functions not as a means to an end, but as an end in themselves. A mirror in more ways than one, it listens and repeats back, while writing out what it hears at the same time. For its intended audience of curious children fascinated by the written and spoken aspects of language, it’s part interactive toy and part learning tool.
Like most smart mirror projects the technological elements are all hidden; the screen is behind a one-way mirror, speakers are out of sight, and the only inputs are a gesture sensor and a microphone embedded into the frame. Thus equipped, the mirror can tirelessly humor even the most demanding of curious children.
[pepelepoisson] explains some of the technical aspects on the project page (English translation link here) and all the code and build details are available (in French) on the project’s GitHub repository. Embedded below is a demonstration of the Magic Mirror, first in French then switching to English.
It’s a simple fact that most programs created for the personal computer involve the same methods of interaction, almost regardless of purpose. Word processors, graphics utilities, even games – the vast majority of interaction is performed through a keyboard and mouse. However, sometimes it can be fun to experiment with alternative technologies for users to interact with code – Paper Programs is an exciting way to do just that.
It’s a system that creates a very tactile way of interacting with a program – by moving the page around or placing different pages next to each other, programs can interact in various ways. The system is setup for collaboration as well, allowing users to edit code directly in the browser.
The project reminds us of earlier works on DIY multitouch screens, but with a greater focus on direct engagement with the underlying code. What other unique ways exist to interact with code? Let us know in the comments.