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Collapsing Coffee Table

Extending Empathy | Projects

  • There are currently 13,306 plant and animal species threatened with extinction. Although one may feel sympathy for these species, this is not conducive to action. If humans could feel empathy for them, they would be more likely to take action. However, the experiences of the endangered species are very different from ours. This collapsing coffee table would allow one to have an experience similar to that of the polar bear. When one places their drink on the coaster, the coffee table falls apart, revealing an iceberg, and any food on it is lost. When the ice melts and breaks apart in the arctic, polar bears are unable to hunt for prey in the sea, and that food is lost.

  • There are currently 13,306 plant and animal species threatened with extinction. Although one may feel sympathy for these species, this is not conducive to action. If humans could feel empathy for them, they would be more likely to take action. However, the experiences of the endangered species are very different from ours. This collapsing coffee table would allow one to have an experience similar to that of the polar bear. When one places their drink on the coaster, the coffee table falls apart, revealing an iceberg, and any food on it is lost. When the ice melts and breaks apart in the arctic, polar bears are unable to hunt for prey in the sea, and that food is lost.

    The coaster is connected to a force sensor, which acts as a pressure plate. When triggered, electromagnets in the piece below turn on and repulse magnets in the iceberg, causing the piece to detach. This project has changed significantly throughout the course of the studio, beginning with the idea for a mat to simulate ice breaking apart beneath one's feet. After learning that polar bears could live on land and needed the ice to hunt on, it was changed to a table and chairs on an iceberg which would break apart, then the table and chairs themselves breaking apart. By then, the table was imagined to be a dinner table with a solid base. After, it was decided that only the table should be designed. The table was going to break apart similarly to an iceberg, but ultimately it was deemed too complicated, requiring the table to tilt and many small parts to be designed. To bring the table down to a reasonable size, it became a coffee table, and to keep the iceberg symbolism, there would be an iceberg inside. Originally the coffee table would be round, but because our material is in flat sheets, it was made hexagonal. It would feature 6 parts which fall off, but due to time constraints the number was reduced to 3. After that, it was decided that the trigger for the table to fall apart would be a coaster pressure plate. When triggered, electromagnets in the iceberg would deactivate and cause the other pieces to fall. However, because the pressure plate would have to be situated above one of the pieces which fall off, it was decided that the electromagnets would be inside the falloff piece. Then, because having the electromagnets always on would constantly generate heat and use energy, it was decided that the electromagnets would always be off and when activated repulse magnets attached to the iceberg.

    One major challenge was the scale of the entire project. The first ideas for the project would fill an entire room. Even when downsized to only a table and chairs, there simply were not enough materials. Another major hinderance was time. Designing an iceberg, even a low-polygon one, was a complicated and time-consuming process. Assembling the material, resupplying the material, and constructing the iceberg took a long time after that. The same process needed to be repeated for the falloff piece as well, and there simply was not enough time to create all three. 

    The first iteration was very simple: two identical halves of a table connected by magnets on the inside. To make one part detach from the other, a second iteration was made in which one of the halves featured two separate pieces. Without the magnets attaching the top piece to the other half, the top piece would slide off. Although the third iteration doesn't resemble the first two, it operates on the same principle. The falloff piece would be attached to the iceberg with magnets, and fall off without them.