Finals madness!

For my final in physical computing, my initial direction was to continue working with soft robotics. I wanted to explore the material more and create data-driven experiences that with softness, slowness and reflection as guiding principles. I brainstormed on multiple ideas and none of them felt satisfying. I was tired of being a one trick pony with silicon and nothing really felt like it was adding up to a meaningful experience. I spent a lot of time going around in circles till I gave up and focused on everything but Physical computing.

And that’s probably the best thing I did.

Not working on P.Comp gave me time and distance to think about it and combined with the happy coincidence of my friend Nun continuously going “I wish I could use all the buttons!”, it led me to a happy place that became the start of an idea that seems promising for the final project.

So here’s my 5 minute pitch:

Update: Lillian and Atharva have decided to team up with me! This gives us an actual chance to make a nuanced, complex interactive model so we have updated our deck with the new, refined idea.

  We were born in the 80s and was made in the 90s.

We were born in the 80s and was made in the 90s.

  It was a great time to be alive. The music was the best.

It was a great time to be alive. The music was the best.

  The cartoons were definitely the best.

The cartoons were definitely the best.

  The technology was clunky.

The technology was clunky.

  But with the physical controls, it was so satisfying.

But with the physical controls, it was so satisfying.

  It was intimidating to approach it.

It was intimidating to approach it.

  But when you got it, it became a part of your muscles.

But when you got it, it became a part of your muscles.

And the sounds really brought them to life.

  And we all remember clambering to rooftop antennas to fix a TV signal.

And we all remember clambering to rooftop antennas to fix a TV signal.

  But the 90s also had something awesome. Insanely obtuse point and click adventures games!

But the 90s also had something awesome. Insanely obtuse point and click adventures games!

  Where the instructions were minimal and the user had to play around with the interface to discover the path ahead. (In the image above, you have to throw a bone so that the fire beaver on top jumps from the ledge and then quickly pull out your fire extinguisher on it. Once the flame goes out, you can collect a key that opens a gate. Phew!)

Where the instructions were minimal and the user had to play around with the interface to discover the path ahead. (In the image above, you have to throw a bone so that the fire beaver on top jumps from the ledge and then quickly pull out your fire extinguisher on it. Once the flame goes out, you can collect a key that opens a gate. Phew!)

  So, we want to build a machine where the instructions are obtuse and the users have to play around with the interface to figure out how to make the machine work.

So, we want to build a machine where the instructions are obtuse and the users have to play around with the interface to figure out how to make the machine work.

  You walk up to to a machine that has a button, knob and dial garden on its face. There’s a single bulb blinking. What will you do?

You walk up to to a machine that has a button, knob and dial garden on its face. There’s a single bulb blinking. What will you do?

Mid-term fever.

For the midterms, Jeff did a thing with his randomizer bot (Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! ) and I was paired with the mighty Shu-Ju!

For our first meeting, we spoke about what we liked, enjoyed and wanted for our project. We both agreed that we need to make something which involved some fabrication as we had not done any of it till that point. We also spoke of our love for TeamLab and how we enjoy data turning into Art. But for Halloween, we both agreed (It was a pretty agreeable meeting!) that we both wanted to make something which was highly interactive and involved multiple people playing together. (It’s a people festival, after all!) One of the ideas that emerged was a wand-duel game recreating the Harry Potter-Voldemort face-off in Goblet of the Fire. It would look something like this:

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Two players would grasp the 2 ends and the middle section will fill up with light which gets more intense with vibration and the brightness of the LEDs. The first person to let go off the wand loses!

We decided to head our way and think of more 2,3 or multiplayer games and meet again in a couple of days. Once we came back together and started finalizing the idea, we threw across ideas to each other but nothing seemed to stick. Shu-ju mentioned how everyone was doing scary things and it would be fun to just do a happy candy dispenser. We left the idea behind and started thinking of something else to do.

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During a break in our brainstorming session, We started talking about weird and funny interactive objects and Shu-ju showed me this video: https://vimeo.com/52555492. We both were laughing through the whole thing and realised that we could actually incorporate softness in our Physical computing project and the idea of a candy dispenser that needed to be played with emerged.

We thought of a candy machine which dispenses candy only if you press it nicely. If you press it too hard, it gets cross, shrivels back and refuses to dispense any candy.

(It’s quite interesting to see how the final idea did not veer too much from the first sketches.)

Now that we had an initial concept in mind, we quickly realised that the sensor was the hard part. One idea was to put a force sensor inside a soft material and call it a day but we were not very happy with it. It felt like a cheap way out and we spent a day without moving ahead. Thankfully, Shu-ju was sitting next to one of the residents, Lola who had worked with silicon and using air pressure to measure intensity for her work in soft interfaces. (Wish, universe, law of attraction yada yada). We quickly booked an office hour with Lola and she gave us everything on a platter. What we needed to do, how to do it, plenty of encouragement and a loan of her sensors so that we could get started asap. Since we were still figuring out how to work with silicon, We raided the junk shop and found a discarded silicon tube. The thing was gunky, dirty and full of holes but a bad repair job with some hot silicon, we had a dirty sensor which looked like a dismembered finger (hey! it’s the flavor of the season) but it worked well for us to start coding.

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Looks so gross, works so fine!

The lighting of the LED went on without a hitch and using an MAX7219 IC reduced the number of wires into the arduino to free up spaces for more wires.

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This was trivial!

We were feeling pretty good about our progress as our temporary sensor and led array worked and it let us program the logic of the candy dispenser based on difference in pressure through the air pressure transducer (MPX5010 for life!) and we started our foray into making the actual air pressure sensor. We first 3-d printed a shape and then fashioned a cover to create the negative space for the air-pocket.

 Shu-ju bubbling up some silicon tea! (Notice the upturned lid? See how big it is? That caused the first skin to be fragile and a total loss)

Shu-ju bubbling up some silicon tea! (Notice the upturned lid? See how big it is? That caused the first skin to be fragile and a total loss)

 Yasssssss!

Yasssssss!

We printed a total of 3 times as we kept getting the wall thickness wrong. Each wrong silicon experiment set us back by 12 hours (considering the 3d-printing and curing time) and we lost a lot of time but we finally got it right and it felt so nice to squish it!

Once we had everything, Shu-ju quickly put together and enclosure and I got to work on the final coding and assembly. We had thought the structure through during the never-ending wait for our silicon sensor we really didn’t face any issue while putting it together. (Touchwood!)

The sound, mechanism for the candy dispenser and everything else fell together really well and we thought we were at the finish line all high and dry!

Or so we thought…

Because Murphy came visiting at the last moment and the nose broke with the sensor ruining the circuit (broken pins et all!) and we had to hastily put it back together at the last moment before the final presentation (Panic and duct tapes are a match made in heaven!). The thing worked but the sound wouldn’t work and it was finicky.

Here are a couple of videos which show it working (without sound):

The project went surprisingly smooth expect the last minute hiccup. It was a blast working with Shu-Ju and I would love to do it again soon. We have ordered all the materials we need for repair so I expect the poor box to live again soon. In hindsight, we should have started fabrication a bit more early to prevent the last minute rush job and relying on a functional form because we didnt have time to think it through. Overall, I was very happy with what we had and it was a great start to ITP. Onto the finals and Happy festival season!

Physical computing: Analog/Digital

First month in USA and I already fell ill. Not the greatest start to school and I was horribly behind on all the videos and assignments. But gradually, I managed to dig myself out of that hole and here is my combined blog on the Week 3/4 (digital and analog projects) for Physical computing.

As I was very short on time, I did not go with a big concept but chose to focus on making something which demonstrated my learning of the topics for week 3 & 4.

The project that I chose to work on was:

3 Buttons.

3 LEDs.

If you press the buttons in the correct order one after the other, the LEDs light up together.

If you don’t, the middle one lights up (Literally showing you the middle finger).

To make things more fun, I added in 1 motor which rotates a full 90 degrees when the buttons are in the correct order and gives a small shake when you don’t.

I did not run into major issues with the circuits after following the labs videos but the code to count the correct order of buttons was a bit tricky. My final code is a jumble of if/else statements but I think there is a more elegant way to do this. I shall speak to some residents and see if that can be done in a better way.

I did not get time to try out the speaker and tone (also, I did not have any speakers with me) but I am glad that I am not as behind as everyone as I was 1.5 weeks ago.

Onward and upward!

Currently listening: Drive-Incubus

Physical Computing: Let the games begin!

For the first assignment of Physical computing, we were asked to interpret a switch and come up with a creative version of it. My first reaction was to make some kind of a Rube Goldberg like contraption but as all my tools and kit was still back in India (Stupid US shipping times! 😠) I had to scale down my idea.

While chewing on the topic to come up with ideas, I started playing a mobile game (The shitty kind whose name I shall refuse to take because of total embarrassment!) I remembered the Oasis puzzle in Legend of Zelda: Wind waker. That puzzle was emblematic of the countless hours I have invested in computer games in finding buttons and switches and I thought that would be a good start to my Physical Computing journey.

 Slipping & sliding

Slipping & sliding

So, armed with the enthusiasm. I fist went and got a pattern, cut it out and stuck it on cardboard, stuck silver foil below the cardboard in a way so that the pieces line up when placed in the correct pattern.

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Did this work? Yeah, kinda, sorta. the pieces slid properly once of twice before the sliver foil below ripped off and it was unworkable. Thankfully, I managed to get a picture before that happened.

I was really satisfied with the idea and the first prototype. I just wish it had worked a bit longer. I think it will make an interesting fabrication project and I would like to take this ahead when Intro to Fabrication starts next month.

Looking forward to the next one!

Currently listening: Switch-Will Smith