Saturday, November 13, 2010


Jason and I met at Espresso Royale this afternoon to discuss form, function, and budget for our final project. We reflected on Thursday's in-class critique, and quickly drew inspiration from the suggested constraints.  This post is about what we developed.

In class on Thursday, we presented an array of LFSTs that could be controlled remotely with a potentiometer from anywhere in the room.  The general critiques, according to my interpretation, were as follows:

1. The motion of the device cannot be seen from afar.
2. The sound that they make is like the chattering of small critters, and the class loved it.
3. The interior components should be exposed.  The complexity could be beautiful.
4. The value of our project is that we've created a platform for communication and motion that could be applied to a variety of tasks.  Currently, it is not obvious that this is what we've made unless we explain it.

So, why don't we play up the communication and motion, and let the task just be entertainment and curiosity?  We could do this by building 10 clusters.  Each cluster would be a community made of 5 distinct individuals.  Each individual would share the same base form, but each would have a different head that was designed around its function.  For example, the individual that tracks light would look different than the individual that senses movement.  One individual in each community is capable of talking with all other communities/clusters.  The rest of the individuals can only talk with others in their community.

Here are the five players:
And here is a diagram of what they could look like on the wall.  Each color corresponds to a different type.
Since we've decided that the base would be made from a combination of acrylic and MDF, we can use a small multi-color LED in each that lights up when it is playing an active role.  For example, if the motion sensor in one community is activated by the environment, its base lights up.  Then, the communicator talks to all other communities, telling them to let their motion sensor be in charge.  Hence, all motion sensor's bases light up.

This concept seems to answer quite a few of the challenges we've encountered thus far.  Form challenges are answered by giving a distinct function to each individual.  The form should be simple and based on the sensors required to make it operate.  Visualization of conversations between individuals starts to happen as the same individual in each community lights up.

Lastly, this allows us to not spend all of our money in one place.  We only need 10 RF receivers and transmitters, 10 motion sensors, 10 sets of 3 photoresistors, 10 sound sensors (microphones?), etc.  as opposed to 50 of each sensor.  This gives us the opportunity to show how these can be used for a variety of applications.

Most interestingly, this concept is about creating a community of specialized organisms, capable of complex behavior based on a simple, modular design.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Design an Experience

I am a Student Coordinator for UArts101 - Creative Process and Collaboration.  My job is to facilitate class discussion, provide support to professors, grade student assignments, and act as a mentor to students on class projects.  The focus of the class is to get the students to understand their own creative process and teach them strategies to help control it.  This class is interesting, because it could be educational and relevant to people with all levels of experience in creative work.

Yesterday, we asked the students to start thinking about what it means to create a "Designed Experience".  Since I wasn't really sure myself, I developed my own definition.

Conception is the ability to form or understand mental concepts and abstraction.  It is something conceived in the mind.
Perception is awareness or consciousness - the process by which an organism detects and interprets information from the external world by means of the sensory receptors.

I believe that a Designed Experience needs to have both.  And it gets better as the conceptual and perceptual content is enhanced.

In connection to SmartSurfaces, we are designing an experience.  The perception is well on its way.  What about the conception?  maybe.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tube Worms - the distant cousin of the LFST

This week, Joyce and I have tasked ourselves with reworking the form of the LFST.  Along the way, we have allowed ourselves to let go of the movement requirements and focus more on the potential for interaction.  We drew most of our inspiration from tube worms.  They exhibit a "shy" behavior, similar to that which we found so intriguing about our previous project.  What if we created a landscape of these mechanisms that moved in response to their environment, people, and each other?  What if they were shy at first, and what if, over time, you could get them to like you?  What if all of our technology had a personality?  What if my computer wasn't in the mood to work right now, and insisted on sleeping?

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Need a SmartSurface be autonomous?  I'm starting to think not.

According to Wikipedia, an "autonomous" robot is one which "can perform desired tasks in unstructured environments without continuous human guidance."  Often, autonomy is talked about in fractions:  Robots can be partially, or fully autonomous.

But what about a robot/SmartSurface that requires human interaction in order to operate?  What if the surface is about human interaction, and therefore, even though it can perform interesting tasks, it can only perform those tasks if the human is there?  Maybe the human doesn't have to be controlling it directly, but they are still giving input to the system.

On a different note:
A tubeworm variety (feather duster) coming out of its tube:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Growing Toward Sunlight

 Our interim report for the solar tracking device proved unsuccessful.  After showing a computer code that can triangulate to find the location of a light source and a set of renderings of spine-like devices that could theoretically bend to follow sunlight, the professors and audience seemed oddly unimpressed.

Back to the drawing boards.  I feel that our group was on to something with all of this, but we didn't execute it in a way that communicated solar-tracking, biomimetic, 2-axis motion, smart surface.  This week, I think our group will focus solely on this spinal column, that will grow and bend toward the light.

Here are some sources of inspiration:
Snow Buttercup
Heliotropic Sun-tracking System

Added constraints that our group would like to address:
Compactness - can we make this device flatten down and contain itself for transport?
Deployability - can we make this device deploy easily?  Will the user need to orient it in any particular way?