Button Jungle – Midterm

For the midterm, my partner was David Lockard.
Our original idea was to create some kind of potentiometer/sensor/button interface which would tie into an on-screen visual representation. The first idea that guided us was a sort of Pcomp kaleidoscope. Then we took the idea – changes in the physical interface would result in changes in the digital animation elements – even further. What guided us was to create intuitive relations between the physical and the digital.

With this framework in our minds, we decided to leave the process of designing the actual physical interface, digital elements, and the relationships between them to when we were actually engaged in hands-on work. To allow the shapes and forms to emerge from our experiments. To approach the task with playfulness.

So, we started this process by shopping around for the physical components. Looking at what we knew how to use, and trying to figure out interesting ways to work with them.

We went through many ideas. At one point, we decided to try to work with bones as a theme. We toyed with the idea of hooking up the interface to a projector rather than to a computer screen. Maybe two identical interfaces for two ‘players’? We each had a few ideas we were interested and couldn’t really agree on one particular avenue to go down. Playfulness and material tangibility were two things we wanted to focus on.

So eventually we decided to make a whole bunch of little interfaces that will all be hooked up to the screen. Rather than picking one aesthetic, we made a whole range of weird button/sensor experiments. This way we could mess around in the shop and have fun without limiting ourselves too much. Eventually, the shape of each button guided us regarding its function on the screen.



Regarding the screen element, we decided that the bottom of the screen would be populated by separate representations for the various input machines, and its center would be devoted to an element that responded to all of them, in different ways.

The idea behind the ‘center creature’ was that it would react to each input in a way that reflects the physical actions used to convey it (i.e. the creature will spin when the ‘coffee spinner’ is spun).

The bottom ‘icons’ would be visually similar to the physicality of their real-world brothers, and would react to their input in a way that would help participants understand the change they were provoking – by giving a visual feedback.



A glossary of the buttons:


The Plexi Ppusher
The shiniest of the inputs, which also proved to be the most popular among our audience! An FSR is embedded under a soft surface and raised above the ground using two pieces of curved acrylic.



The Coffee Spinner
A potentiometer is fastened to a round, flat piece of wood, and covered by part of a coffee machine.



The Foamboard Cube
Three potentiometers are embedded in three sides of a cube. Each potentiometer controls a separate dimension.



The Stone Pulley
An FSR is attached to the bottom of the silver bowl. The pulley controls how many stones are rested inside it. If you wind it up, all the stones are in the air. If you let go, they all drop in one after the other.

The Jenga Snake
The four wooden sticks are connected to each other via potentiometers. By changing the angle between any two given sticks, you change the input of one of the three potentiometers.




Problems we ran into

1. Jenga snake ended up not being hooked up at all ):
We ran out of analog inputs on the Arduino board. At first we thought we can use some of the digital pins as analog input what led us to the following problem.

2. Double readings on Arduino serial monitor
At a certain point, two of the readings showed up as being sent out twice, rather than once, from the Arduino. We were pretty confident that the wiring was all correct, and our code was too, so we really didn’t know what to make of it. Now we know – using digital pins as analog pins were the cause of the bug.

Next time we will have to get an Arduino mega with more analog pins.

3. Not enough time
We didn’t really leave ourselves enough time to deal with the digital-visual side of things properly and ended up sort of cramming that part of the work. If we had more time to work on it, we would probably mostly focus on making the animations (both the icons and the center creature) more relatable to the physical inputs. That, and refining our input mappings – on the stone pulley especially.

Categories: Computational Media, Physical Computing

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