Friday, January 26, 2007

You must be lentil, man!

Project 1: Physical Computing Improv

For this assignment, we had to choose an Action, a Thing and a Response and combine everything into an object no larger than a 40cm cube. The object had to produce a clear reproduceable action.

What stuck out for me was the cube aspect of the assignment. I had a vision of a clean, perfect cube. I wasn't sure what the action would be, nor the response, but immediately I knew I wanted to work with a cube.

My initial investigations began with feathers and a fan. I envisioned my perfect cube with a conical vent on the top. I was hoping I could place the fan underneath this inverted cone and have a feather miraculously float above the cube, caught in the stream of air. Unfortunately early experiments proved this concept to be quite difficult to achieve as the feather tended to drift away and fall out of the air stream. I also had a problem where the feather would drift out of the stream and fall on the table, only to be sucked into the fan's intake, creating a small cloud of feather particles. It became quite irritating breathing in these small allergens so I abandoned the feathers in favor of lentils.

Having a small fan and a pile of lentils on my workbench, it was only natural to create a lentil throwing machine. I quickly fastened some chipboard paddles to the fan (biscuit fan) and slowly poured a stream of lentils onto the moving fan. This worked extremely well, creating a high-velocity stream of lentils. Unfortunately this also proved irritating as the lentils went everywhere, and I spent most of my time trying to recover them.

For my final concept, I stuck with the lentils but rather than throw them, I decided to dispense them as a dump truck would. I thought this would be an intriguing object because I envisioned a perfect white cube sitting on the table and whenever you moved it, it would leave behind a trail of lentils. It wouldn't be absolutely clear why or how it was working, just that it did.

Using a QT113, I developed a switch that sensed when someone was touching the top of the cube, and using that triggered a small selanoid to open a gate in the lentil hopper. I added an LED so that I could see when the program was in set-up or ready to roll.

It worked really well, except occasionally a lentil would get caught in the gate, or if the hopper was overloaded the selanoid didn't have enough oomph to open the gate. But everyone seemed to like it, and laugh. You should watch the video!

Video is Here!