We started off the studio by doing some basic Arduino tutorials. When it came time to group up, Julia and I decided we wanted to work together and started to brainstorm ideas. We knew that we wanted to make something that was interactive and more of a whimsical experience, as opposed to a device.
We used Tai Chi as our inspiration. Tai Chi is a meditative practice that involves body movements and the repetition of physical patterns. All the movements are very slow and controlled. Tai Chi helps you become more centered and aware of your body, increasing your wellbeing.
We started off by thinking about our project as a stand up twister game with lights on a cat toy-like structure. As the lights appear, you have to cover them with your hands and feet to turn the lights off. The user is forced to cover the lights very slowly or the light won’t go out. Once one light goes out, the next one will light up. We want the user to turn the light out by moving their hand or foot towards the light and keeping their hand or foot there until the next light in reach opens up. Our project promotes slow and controlled movements of the body which will help the user become more aware, thus increasing their well being.
Our ideal structure was going to be similar to a cat scratching post toy, and be very long and have protruding branches going off it. For prototype's sake and ease of making we are starting off with boxes that have stands or can be placed on a shelf. Our plan is to have one low box at foot level, one high box that you would have to stretch to reach and one mid height box. The lights will be in different places for each box, some on the top of the boxes and some on the sides, ensuring that the user has to reach and stretch to cover the lights.
We started working with an Arduino by getting a sonar sensor to work with a vibrating motor. We used a sonar sensor to judge the distance. Once we got it working, we then switched the vibrating motor out for a LED strip and fixed the code to make it work with a light. The final result made the light glow and fade.
We also made a cardboard box as a prototype to test out the heights of the boxes. We looked at Tai Chi poses to determine where we wanted the lights to be and to see what body movements would be most useful for our project. We tested out the heights and felt confident they would work for most people.
The box was ugly. We thought about ways to make it more aesthetically pleasing. We wanted the light to be able to fade instead of looking like a light, and we wanted a glow. We first considered having a wood box inside of a clear box so that the light would have more room to defuse. We decided that was simply a bad idea because it would look stupid and not be any better than the box we had before.
We then decided that we wanted to use balsa wood. That way we could maintain the organic Zen feel. We went out and got the thinnest balsa wood we could find. We tested the lights with them and they worked well, although the light didn’t defuse as much as we would have liked. We then sanded down the balsa wood and it looked much better. The whole strip of wood started to glow with the lights and was very beautiful.
With the basic Arduino work done and the concept secured, we started working on the design. We had originally thought that the lights would be housed in boxes on stands. We had made a box earlier, but decided that that was not the look we wanted.
We started brainstorming on different ways we could house the lights that would make the concept stronger. We decided that we wanted to create an experience and start a conversation between the user and the project. We wanted each person who experienced our project to feel like it was personalized to them and that they were experiencing something unique. We thought of going to do this by having the light pieces be almost like toys, where you could build your own structure and make it fit your body and your mood. We came up with a few different ways of doing this using connector pieces and bars. We decided that it was not the feel we wanted. We didn’t want our project to be experienced as a game and building project, as that would take away from the experience. We also didn’t want our project to turn into a closed space. We didn’t want bars and poles holding it together. We thought of a new way of having building blocks where the light pieces snapped into each other, but we realized that this had the same problem of creating a closed space.
We then stumbled across the idea of hanging the dodecahedrons. We could hang each of the light structures from a main structure that you could walk underneath. That way it creates a space but does not close you off from the world. It creates an open experience. We knew that we still wanted maximum customizability of the space depending on the person in it. For each of the light structures you can change the position of the light in the x, y and z direction, allowing for maximum customizability.
We also decided that it was useful to use specific Tai Chi moves and take that into account in our design. We plan on having notches where the light structures naturally fall that will lock them into certain positions that are desirable for Tai Chi. Through our research we found that the majority of the Tai Chi moves have the arms either at shoulder level or hip level, and we can incorporate that into our design.
We worked on the housing and the shapes of each light fixture. We originally made a sphere constructed of cardboard triangles just to test with the materials and start making shapes. We decided that the sphere made of triangles had too many faces and was too complicated. We also tested the balsa wood and decided how we will be putting it together. We laser cut the pieces of balsa wood with holes along the edges and sew the pieces together. This offered an organic feel.
Once we had figured out how we were putting it together we took a step back to look at the shape. We decided that we would rather use a dodecahedron, made out of pentagons. We thought this was better because it had more faces and each face had five sides—like a hand. We started experimenting with building a dodecahedron and started making a frame and the sides. We needed an internal frame so all the weight of the Arduino and battery wouldn’t be on the balsa wood, because the balsa wood can’t support the weight. The frame for the dodecahedron is made out of thin plywood.
We spent a morning prototyping the frame. We had to build a few different frames in different sizes to get the best fit. When we made the frames, the sizes were unpredictable because we couldn’t always put the frame together the right way. After making a few frames and testing it, we decided that we didn’t need a whole frame. The balsa wood is sewn together and holds its shape. Since the dodecahedrons are going to be hanging, there was no point in building the bottom half of the frame because it won’t be used for support anyway. However, not having a bottom to the frame means that once the dodecahedron is done, it will absolutely not be able to sit and rest on its own and will always have to be hanging. The weight of the frame will crush the balsa wood beneath it.
The frame is made with six sides to it, and a table hanging from the top piece. The top piece is solid and will be taking all the weight. All the other sides are just on the edges of the dodecahedron. One of the sides of the dodecahedron has a special side that has a hole for the distance sensor.
We decided that we only want one sensor per dodecahedron, because the lights look much better if it lights up the entire dodecahedron as opposed to just a side of it.
Once we had the structure and frame worked out we took one last look at the Arduino portion of it. We had the code working before but it was an overcomplicated code for a very simple command. We re-did all the Arduino and to make it more simple and effective.
Once we had the design and Arduino out of the way, all we had left was manual labor in making the dodecahedrons. We made the frame, soldered all the wires and assembled our first dodecahedron. The tricky aspect of assembling the dodecahedrons is half of the dodecahedron needs to be sewn together while it’s hanging so that it doesn’t get crushed in the process. It’s tough.
In the end, we finished about 1.5 units. We made the frame for the second dodecahedron and sorted out all the electronics. It is looking great!