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CMU Electronic Media Studio II, Fall 2011, Section D » Looking Outwards

Looking Outward 4-1

Looking Outwards — SAMANTHA.OLESON @ 10:28 pm

Ed Rogers lives next to active train tracks, which leads to a lot of noise in his bedroom when a train passes and the windows are open. Like any good maker, Ed solved his problem with a homebrew automatic window closer. He attached a pair of linear actuators to the windows with 3D printed brackets. These actuators are controlled by an Arduino with an H bridge and can be activated by a button on his nightstand. Not only that, but the project also integrates a motion detection system to close the windows automatically when a train is passing. I really love the idea of this project.  I never though to use something like the Arduino in such a practical way.  I always look at the Arduino as this foreign and somewhat scary device that requires skills beyond my ability to use.  However, this project takes this seemingly complex device and makes it more familiar and user friendly.  it functions in such a helpful and “non-complex” way that makes me comfortable with its many uses.


Go HERE to see the video.

Looking Outwards #4

Looking Outwards — JILLIAN.GOODWYN @ 9:49 pm

Santa doll mummy hack

This one made me chuckle. I’ve never liked those creepy robotic singing santas that show up around Christmas time, and I’m happy that someone put some time and effort into dismantling one of them, messing up their sound, and converting it into a mummy. I think a babbling, bloody-bandaged mummy is a million time cooler than a creepy santa. I also think it’s fantastic that the person used Arduino to accomplish this task, and I’d like to do some experiments with sounds and toys if I ever get good enough for it.


Talking skeleton

Halloween is my favorite holiday, and I would love to be able to make things like this. I like how the two creators talk about how they made the skeleton, and they even provide instructions in case the reader wants to build their own. This project reminds me of the automated ghosts and goblins you can buy to decorate your home around Halloween time, but being able to make your own would be much cooler and way more fulfilling. Being able to program things like this would also open up a lot of opportunities for some really neat ideas for haunted houses to use. The more creativity and flexibility with electronics and robots, the better the haunted house could be.

Gimme robot

I thought this was such a funny and clever idea. This little robot finds a person to focus on and then shakes the donation box at the person until they give a donation. Then it finds another person to fixate on. I really like the idea and execution of this project, and I think it actually touches on a bit of psychology too because the robot induces the feeling of a conscience and morality. I have a feeling that more donations are generally made when people feel they are being watched or monitored. I just wish they had robots like this to collect taxes, and then we’d all be a little better off. =P

Looking Outward 04

Looking Outwards — AeonX @ 2:26 pm

Being a bit obsessed with zoetropes, praxinoscopes, phenakistoscopes and the like, I was delighted to find The Shadow Machine by Jason Eppinks and I Am. I have been struggling with how to project zoetrope images while retaining the jitter and magic of the 19th century* technology… And this seems to be a beautiful solve! The still images are hand painted on plexi, and then lit from behind with LEDs sequenced by an Arduino. The placement of the piece in an abandoned NYC subway station for The Underbelly Project certainly adds to its appeal, and the Muybridge images of two blacksmiths are an excellent choice for the industrial venue. Michael Brown’s Ghost Horse uses sequenced LEDs to an almost identical effect. (Although, I cannot find information that he used an Arduino to program the LEDs.) I like Brown’s piece even better as he captures the romance of the Victorian era by encasing the animation inside a bell jar. You can watch a video here. But what really got me is that he made it solar powered and placed it in the middle of the desert at Burning Man. See a photo here.

Technically, this is not part of the post since it does not have to do with Arduino… But based on the above… Mitchell F. Chan’s enchantingly interactive piece, A Dream of Pasturesbeckons a shout. When a visitor/participant rides a stationary bicycle, the motion triggers gears that activate the projected animation of a galloping horse. The shadow of the bicycling participant is lined up to appear as if the person is riding the shadow horse.

Which leads me to a Mitchell F. Chan work that DOES use Arduino… The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. The project writes out the entire book in vertical water vapor text generated by ultra and subsonic sound. Per Chan’s site, “The piece addresses the futility of grasping at stable meanings and the beauty of the ineffectual gesture.” It is elegant not just in the visual aesthetic of the vapor rising and disappearing, but also in the subtly audible “pufffffs” each letter makes as they are released from the canisters. “The canisters that shoot the clouds into the air are sequenced through an Arduino reading a .txt file of the whole book on MicroSD,” Chan states in a slightly more technical note here on the Make blog. This would be a wonderful piece to live with… And in winter, especially great for your skin!   😉

I am trying to think of a clever way to segue into the final piece – the ShapeLock Robotic Arm. Hmmm…  One could say there is beauty in its ineffectual gestures, although sometimes they are quite effective, if a little clumsy. This is really super cool. Alexi (from Russia) is moving his human arm with a controller and the robotic arm imitates the gesture. Per Make, “The electronics consist of an Arduino variant, servos, and some potentiometers for the controller.” This could be great for long distance relationships… Although, I believe the sex industry is light years ahead on this. Great Wired article from 2004 here.

*According to Wikipedia, there is evidence the first zoetrope was created in China in 180 AD.

Looking Outwards 3: Portal Edition

Looking Outwards — JOLYN.SANDFORD @ 4:07 am

I decided to make my next Looking Outwards Portal themed! SPOILERS BELOW if you haven’t played Portal 2. If you don’t plan on it, go ahead and look, there’s some really cool sculpting and programming stuff here!


  • So there are some pretty dedicated replica prop-makers, especially for the Portal series by VALVe!  In Portal 2, there’s a moment when an AI is removed from the computer systems and attached to a potato battery, which you pick up and cart around as it snarks at you. Pictured here is a piece by a very thorough prop-maker who goes by Volpin. The potato GLaDOS lights up, speaks, and fits onto the end of the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device, to which it is connected for power. To make it, he actually made a rubber mold of an actual potato, created a hollow cast of it, and created a board of LED lights that allowed the “eye” and other lights to turn on. It’s really amazing how accurate he made it to the game, and the only thing I wish could happen would be for potato to be removable from the portal gun. To be honest, I really want to learn enough Arduino to make a simpler version of POTaDOS.

Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device

  • And now for the ASHPD itself! To date, Volpin has only made 3 of these – one for his girlfriend (now wife), one for a charity auction, and another commissioned by VALVe. Each portal gun is “operational,” which is to say it lights up, changes colours from orange to blue with a sound, plays the portal-shooting sound when fired, and also plays “power-up” and “power-down” sounds when turned on or off. All of this is made possible with a small perfboard and some ribbon cable, with a pre-programmed chip to allow for sound. Similar to POTaDOS, the ASHPD is created through casting and molding pieces that Volpin created from scratch. These props are mind-blowing in his attention to detail and the sheer finish of them. I’d love to see them in person!

Sentry Turret

  • Now this one is a real showcase of what something like Arduino can do – within the turret is motion-activated laser and sound. Created by Ryan Palser in accordance to the first Portal game, it is accurate down to the engraved text around the “eye.” A breadboard is used for the motion sensor, which trips the voice clips and the laser sight. The entire thing is able to be turned on in the back using a switch, and it can also play the Portal theme (which disables the motion sensor).  There are 4 LEDs in the eye, and it has both batteries and a wall adapter for power. It’s really stunning how well this is crafted – again, the individual pieces were molded and cast, and the electronics were apparently bought cheap from reused items. If I could learn to do this with Arduino, I would consider my learning a success.

Looking Outward #3

Looking Outwards — JILLIAN.GOODWYN @ 12:09 am

Arduino-based Etch-A-Sketch Clock

Okay, so this is preeeeetty awesome. I really hope I learn enough Arduino to make things like this someday! I love the fact that the creator took an everyday child’s toy and turned it into something that is actually quite useful and ultimately pretty retro and awesome-looking. This would definitely be a conversation piece in most houses. Something that this video leaves me wondering is if there is a way to make the final product more cleaned up? That is, can we make the wires invisible to the viewer so that the final installation looks seamless and good enough to be used like a regular clock? I’m sure this question and more will be answered as I learn more about Arduino.

The Newton Virus

I whole-heartedly enjoy this. This “virus” comes on a little flash drive, and you are supposed to plug it into your unsuspecting friend’s (or enemy’s) laptop or computer when they are not looking. The “virus” then randomly initiates the gravity simulator while the person is working, leaving them surprised and dumbfounded. If I remember correctly, the virus just wears off after a while and the computer will go back to normal (unless you plug the flash drive in again).

If I could earn a living creating small, insiginificant yet entertaining programs like this one for sheer enjoyment, I would do that. I really like the concept of injecting the everday experience of mindlessly working one’s laptop with the completely unexpected event of the icons plopping to the bottom of the screen. I am enthralled by the idea of breaking the norms of boring, everyday experiences and turning it into something completely unexpected. I wish it was requred that all computers were programmed to inititate completely random and unexpected processes that would keep us on our toes.

bit.fall (waterfall of words and images)

This awesome installation is programmed to let drops of water fall at precise moments in order to form words, shapes, and images. The end result is awe-inspiring and very visually satisfying. To me, this is, like, way better than any fancy fountain ever imagined because it conveys complexity on a whole new level. The artist, Julius Popp, commented that bit.fall is “a metaphor for the incessant flood of information that we are exposed to.” I can’t agree more with this statement, considering that we are increasingly bombarded with loads of information with each passing year. If this is a good or a bad thing, however, I still don’t know.

Looking Outward 03

Looking Outwards — AeonX @ 4:09 pm

In full disclosure, what first got me to Pete Hawkes‘ site was the Google search “arduino purr.” Pet & Purr is a black fuzzy box that (no surprise) purrs when you pet it, but also shakes when sharply tapped. According to Hawkes, the box “shakes uncontrollably when abused” but if you watch the video, “uncontrollably” is a bit of an exaggeration. No matter, what I like is that it purrs. When you pet it. And it >>might><< be conceivable for me to make something similar? There are also two other projects on his site I quite like… Sierpinski #2 is a kinetic sculpture based on Sierpinski fractals.  I like that it moves/shivers as if it is a living organism. Hawkes states he has plans to make an interactive version. Yes please! He also built a version in Processing. (Not that I understand any of the code.) Lastly, Trace: Resonance Field is really freaking cool. Possibly in large part because it’s in the desert. Flat ceramic sculptures are placed on top of boxes containing solenoid motors. The motors are fed seismic waveforms from nearby mountains (via Python and an Arduino board). As visitors walk through the desert, they encounter the sculptures that very naturally and beautifully blend into the arid landscape and intermittently clink with the striking of the motors on the ceramic plates. You can view all of Hawkes’ Arduino projects here.

I want The Cat Bag / Cuddle Bag created by Anouk Wipprecht, David Morgan, Nick Lesley, and Hans Gunter Lock. So maybe I will make one of my own. When held close, the bag breaths, has a heartbeat, gives off warmth and (of course) purrs. I love that this must be held close in order to experience the interactivity. You can view photos here. Along a similar line, here is a nice little overview of a workshop in Amsterdam headed by Nadya Peek that taught participants how to make “funnily annoying sound clothing.”

In keeping with the kitty themed post, I searched Vimeo for “arduino cat.”  Terror Cat gets pissy if you place your hand too close to its face. While not super impressive, seems like it would be doable for a beginner project. What I do not like is that I would get bored playing with this after 2.3 seconds. Whereas a purring cuddle bag would provide endless hours of shmrowwws.

I found the Human Cat Interaction peeps (self-described as three humans and a cat) through the Vimeo search. Seems like all the projects involve the cat physically standing or resting on a cushion wired to an Arduino and an Android. While their experiments do not seem to be terribly successful, the potential for improvement is interesting. And their illustrations are kind of adorable. And they like cats.

Looking Outward 3

Looking Outwards — CHRISTINA.CONWAY @ 12:57 pm



Chi-TEK Artists Teapots


This is a collection of electronic pieces in the form of teapots. Some

work with light, some video, and some sound. One that I find particularly

interesting is a teapots programmed to spin and use its sensor to detect

if anyone if in front of it and then spray water at them.These pots are

all made by female artists in order to sell women being successful in

areas of art and technology. I’m not sure how well the theme comes across,

but some of the teapots are pretty cool.




This is nothing too impressive or elegant, but it does show that one could

use Arduino to animate soft sculpture. I also noticed this video because

the arduino used looks very similar to the items that we are using in

class. Someone may want to take this person’s idea and apply it to an army

of squirrels or program something to walk.





Maker Faire New York 2011


This is video footage of robotics that were at this year’s New York Maker

Faire. The video captures a good number of projects. It even mentions

arduino. Its really worth it to see what projects are being released

there. People seem to have thought of really amazing things to make. The

coolest part of this video though is the music played on tesla coils.


Looking Outwards 3

Looking Outwards — HANK.EHRENFRIED @ 2:29 am

Be Your Own Sourvenir is great project that answers the timeless question of “what do I get those relatives while on my vacation?” What better way to appease one’s own inner narcissist than getting those relatives a little statuette of yourself! This is one of those things that inspires participates to act in ways they wouldn’t normally act in the middle of a very public space. In the video you can see people squatting and posing dramatically so that they get the craziest souvenir of themselves possible. All of that public embarrassment for what appears to be a pretty small action figure.


The Musicovery blog is an idea that I’ll think about briefly on occasion so it was pretty cool to see that I’m not insane for thinking about this, let alone contemplating figuring out how to do something like this. I’m pretty sure I saw an episode of Law and Order SVU or something about this sort of thing. Thankfully, this blog is much more light hearted. I think that they were able to evaluate what people value by what music they can agree on is another dimension to the way I had always thought about this project. The chart they drew up to represent this data is pretty nice too.


 Jer Thorp’s SmartRockets is something I found last year after Thorp spoke during the artist lecture series. He gave an excellent lecture and decided to explore his website as a small thanks. I was pleasantly surprised by everything I found but I spent the most time on this program. I would just leave this open for hours to see it’s progress. Basically you set a target for the rockets and let them go. Each batch of rockets will get closer and closer to the target. They also leave faint trails so after several batches of rockets you can see the progress the rockets have made. Choose your settings, set the target, let it go and check back every once in a while and see their progress.

Looking Outward 02

Looking Outwards — AeonX @ 5:20 pm

1)  Interference Clock by Paul Servino “adds new centered and scaled circles to the centerline on hours, minutes, and seconds [and] pulses on the millisecond.” I like the soothing quality of the pulse, as it resembles a heartbeat. While the grayscale works with the subtleness of the abstract clock, I think it would visually be enhanced by a bit of color… Perhaps it could start out grayscale, morph through a color palette, and then return back to grayscale each minute. Or it could be made interactive by having the color change when the mouse is clicked. Because the circles are organized horizontally, I can imagine this on a huge wall… And because the pulse is so subtle, it would be easy to live with. (If it were installed on a wall, the colors could change based on proximity or touch.)

2)  I am very drawn to the idea/image of water clocks. With the elegant Clock of Flowing Time in Berlin, colored water fills up glass spheres. This sculptural timepiece spans three stories, enhancing its appeal since it may be viewed from many different angles. You can watch a video here. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Hornsby Water Clock, made up of three different clocks. Some love it, some think it’s a monstrosity. I like it for the over-the-top mechanics combined with running and spraying water. Gears and clock movements appeal to me even when they are broken… And when they actually function properly, all the better! For the story on why the clock is often under repair, you can watch a slightly annoying video here.

3)  Dandelion Clock by John Carpenter is an “interactive digital projection-based installation” in which the individual seeds that make up a dandelion poof (technical term) can be dispersed by human movement. While the concept is not new to interactive art, the decision to use a dandelion is incredibly effective, as it translates beautifully to an electronic environment. And when the poof is perfectly assembled, it is a mandala… And I’m obsessed with mandalas. Unfortunately, I could not find a video link for this.

Looking Outward #2

Looking Outwards — JILLIAN.GOODWYN @ 1:05 pm

The Canna Clock

I absolutely love this clock, and when I’m old and rich and frivolous with money, I will get this clock for my mansion… haha, yeah right, but I can dream. =)

Anyways, I really like how water is used to represent the passage of time with this clock. This clock definitely reminds me of the fact that time is always flowing, much like water.

If I could add anything to this piece, I would really really really love to have some little fish swimming around in the water. I dunno what the poor little creatures would do at 1:00 when the water level is at its lowest, but I’m sure we could figure something out. I mean, the water has to be kept somewhere, right? =P

Delusion – an interactive light installation

The absurd prompt image to tell the user when to speak made me chuckle. It looks like a dude puking to me, BUT ANYWAYS that’s not the point. Take a look at the video, the installation is pretty awesome.

I’m a sucker for anything interactive, and anything that wants you to yell at it during any point of the presentation is even more wonderful to me. I really enjoy that the installation is like an interactive light show – it’s almost like something you’d see at Disney or something of that caliber. I’d definitely like to get into forms of art like this that involve the user and present them with something pretty to look see at the same time.

Clock Parasol

I think this is a great example of a wonderfully fantastic idea with a really poor implementation. I mean, the designer Kota Nezu obviously has some serious creativity – the umbrella is visually appealing, has a great conceptual mapping, and the actual item seems simple to figure out and use…

HOWEVER, one individual summed up the main issues of the design much more gracefully than I could:

“…we use umbrellas in the rain when there is no sun…”

And there ya go. I still give Nezu props for awesome ideas, though. =P

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