Iterative Design and Creating on a small Budget

while re-working our installation for this year’s Resonate 2016 festival, we are doing things a bit slower now. and since i am talking about us here, i also mean the fine people Irena Kukric and Luiz Zanotello. back then in april, we only had two and a half weeks to force the project through from the very start til the bitter end. meaning:

– concept & idea phase
– prototyping & testing
– realization: building, programming, lot of sweat
– finishing touches, shipping, setting up and presentation

obviously some things you can’t force, if you don’t have enough hands or money. in our case, at least at that point, money wasn’t the problem but the scale of the project and thus a lot of missing hands. i’d say, we conquered the first point quite fine. we had some nice concepts, iterated on them and were always trying to work out our way from last year’s project ‚Automatic Orchestra‚. this time we wanted to tackle and aspect, last year’s team didn’t get to touch at all: movement and sensing.

so we took the liberty and built upon already existing software and hardware and tried to alter the experience, so i wouldn’t just turn out as an Automatic Orchestra 2.0.

i don’t want to go into detail about things that went wrong in april. i’ll take my time to elaborate on this in a different post in the future. today i’d rather talk about the second point: prototyping and testing.

due to the time constraints, we never got to proper prototype our sketches and design from paper. under a lot of heavy pressure, things start to make sense in your head and you tell your team members: yes, that’s the solution we need *right now*. so for most of the cases, we only iterated one, maybe even two times on our designs. not more, which is a huge mistake! but how did it come to this?
we were quite sure, that working in a modular fashion turns out just fine, but it didn’t. not just by itself. every module on its own can work quite fine and without any problem, but the sum of all modules is by far greater than expected. which is a known fact. so is also the sum of all errors. fact, too.

iteration is most important. it gives you agility, flexibility and control over what you are doing. on the downside, it is quite time costly. many great projects started quite simple and only evolved over time. in memo atken’s works, a re-occuring pattern of „simple harmonics“ can be seen.Simple_harmonic_motion_animation_2

 

maybe even started as a creative coding sketch, where different particle with different velocities can generate quite dynamic patterns, he turned it into something beautiful:8483172942_ed5a6ffa78_o-640x425

even a perfomance emerged from this, through iteration over projects:

FUTR2015_RNCM_Memo_Akten_Simple_Harmonic_manox_021-640x427

(http://www.memo.tv/simple-harmonic-motion-12-for-16-percussionists-at-rncm/)

but what does that mean for us?
we wanted to iterate over Automatic Orchestra without giving up own aesthetics for a new project.
so it was an iteration over the hardware, right? sort of. the software from before mainly consisted of a pcb, the PROTOSEQ, and some speakers and a monopod stand. that’s not a lot to take away.
so we took the heart of automatic orchestra, the PROTOSEQ, and tried to hide it inside of a wooden box. so far, so good. but this is the point, where things started to to awry: modular design needs a lot of testing. we didn’t have that time, so a lot of weird mistakes no one was thinking about started to emerge only when we set up the installation in belgrade at the kinoteka installation site.
for example: cable connections between the inside (PROTOSEQ, motor) and the outside world (speakers, power supply) were totally overlooked! to be more precise: a power supply cable coming from the outside would have to go through a little hole and be screwed on the pcb – directly. that is a huge no-go no one from our team has thought about in advance.
why? maybe because we never put together a whole piece – or also called pod – before we even left germany. maybe there was just too much other stuff to handle.
so what was in this special case the punishment for such a design error? simple: a pod would be connected to the power source in a manner, that moving around is a hard task. disassembling cables can only be done from the inside. so if we wanted to move the whole installation, we would have to drag all pods one by one, with a lot of more hands!

what would be a solution then? also that is quite simple: a hardware interface. some plate, that sits on the outer face of the pod’s wooden case, has all the cables from the inside already connected and invites us just to plug in cables from the outside easily.
we had to find this out the hard way, like so many other things in the project, but we are now quite happy working on it again. making the installation run smoothly, without any construction errors and easy to handle software.

from this hardware interface story and the (more or less) missing iterative part of our project, i want to come to the current state of project. right now, in our team of three, i am in charge of designing the exact parts for the construction. all of this has to be done on a tight budget – literally none. so what to do?
good we have access to a Ultimaker 2 3D-printer. especially in the case of the hardware interface i want to show two things: how do you create on a small budget and how do you iterate over a design?

IMG_6114with the help of the UM2 printer i can quickly pump out designs from my cad program Fusion 360, which i only got to learn in the last few weeks and already got quite proficient in it.
the material costs are vanishingly low, which makes it a prototyping tool of the first chop!

but the main critical point of the whole project is the repetition of the several pods: we need them seven times. that means, completing one pod and having expenses in the amount of several hundred euros is a no go, since we have to multiply a few more times to get the whole installation. so trying to save on every part we have to buy is an absolute must!

how about the hardware interface again? we want to connect two cables, inside and outside:

sektche1

there  are solutions on the market, like this here:

$_12

but they are also price heavy: 2€ a piece. and we need them on each hardware interface six times (midi in, midi out, speakers, etc), so that’s 2€*6 = 12€, and in total we need this 7 times for our seven pods:  84€. just for stupid adapters. and then we can’t even properly attach them to a front plate. so how about this approach: let’s use our brains and make something useful!

EB_35_WE

Klinkeneinbaubuchsen at reichelt.de – 0,21€. and they’re even screwable. the idea here is to come up with a design that’s combining two of these assembly audio jacks into a modular design. how about this?IMG_6119

as shown above, there is a clear iterative process to be seen from left (initial design around the jack) to the right (current one). after a lot of measuring, these assembly jacks are quite irregular shaped, the idea from putting the jack into the box from the top changed to a sideway entry approach. why?
i just didn’t want to have them to be modular, but also stackable! so putting from above turned out to be a bad, since there would be always the next module on top blocking access. but how to solve this?
the current solution is this one:

IMG_6125

IMG_6126

pre-solder the two jacks and cramp them inside the box. fasten the screws so the whole inner part doesn’t move anymore and then…

IMG_6130

put them into a small rack for holding them in a stacked manner. ok, the design is not quite finished. there are still things missing: attachments to a front plate or a side plate, to prevent the jacks from getting out sideways, but this can be produced quite fast.

and the overall cost? (0,21€*2 two sides)*6 jacks = 2,52€ (!) * 7 = 17,64€ for the whole set + a bit of material cost.

in my opinion that’s not bad and saves a lot of money for other parts, which are not that easy to produce.

Cheap pH Meter

months ago I came across this article by AlexShu on a Cheap pH meter hack for Arduino

I ordered parts on Amazon right away (beginning of february) , but thank the chinese heavens I only got them a few days ago. this is bad. not even AliExpress is that slow, unless they lose two total parcels – which I totally needed.

so the moral here is:
– if you got time to spare and don’t have so much money and you are also prepared to take some risks: go the chinese route. aliexpress. worst case: you have to talk to the seller and resolve everything in a dispute and ask for your money back. i had to do this twice.
– if you are wealthy enough. just buy the stuff at your local online shop and receive the goods within few days.

anyway. here is one of those beauties which is going to get a proper hacking treatment the next few days.

i am excited!

IMG_6011 IMG_6007 IMG_6010

portfolio refresh

I finally got around to refresh this portfolio. Switched from good old Stacey to WordPress, from literally no CSS grid to Bourbon Neat.
Ah, the joys of having everything semantic and clean.

Furthermore I imported all posts from my secret thesis blog, which I kinda forgot for a long time. I thought it might be better to just write more profound posts here – so called sketches! I think I’ll like that format way much better, since I got to get better at writing stories in the next few months anyway /hints.

In the works section most of the images have not been updated to higher resolutions. I will fix this in the next few days.

Biohackhack Academy

for later: http://waag.org/en/event/biohack-academy-3-biofactory

Concerns regarding touching

Since I don’t want to have people touching plants *all* the time, I want to have input via breath – as mentioned earlier.
But what if I want to rely on some touching? Then I run into the problem that touch is binary.
I guess I also want to build this: http://www.instructables.com/id/Touche-for-Arduino-Advanced-touch-sensing/

or engarde: http://spritesmods.com/?art=engarde

update: build the „touché“. it’s working wonderful on a water bottle, but no response on a plant yet.

(ongoing) Guto Nóbrega

I am now in contact with Mr. Nóbrega and his giving me some hints on how to handle the plant. For now I’ll try out first what he is advising me and then will update this post on how far I can streamline the workflow on the plant module.

( to be updated )

pHDuino and thoughts on „watery around electrode“ problem

looks good enough to me + open source!

will produce a few of these quite soon, then I need to get a hold on some pH electrodes to try them out.

http://solderpad.com/solderpad/phduino/
https://code.google.com/p/phduino/

*problem*
usually these pH electrodes don’t like to be rammed into raw earth, but I think in my case it’s okay if i do these simple steps:
1. put a hygrometer next to electrode in the soil
2. when soil is not wet enough, go drip sour or alcalic water
3. only if the vater is more than just moist (wet!) go ahead and take a sample of the pH value

this should more or less mimic the following process of taking some earth, dissolving it in pH-neutral water and then putting the pH testing sticks inside. well, hopefully.

two circuits one plant

I got two (more or less) working circuits now.
It’s kinda difficult for me to say which one right now is better since they are structured quite different.

circuit a: is able to detect touch on a plant anywhere, but has no ground so it’s basically a giant resistor. it’s sort of useful, but only until the point where you want to put up for example a hygrometer. then putting the GND to literally ground/soil is causing the whole thing to fall apart. not good

circuit b: is hard to balance, but gives good result. only on one leave tho. i feel like the plant is reacting to light/breath better, but I guess a circuit b plant needs more than one sensor (electrode) per plant.

I have to test more!

Possible Modules

all sending modules should carry a drip
all receiving modules should carry a probe

+ plants
|- simple touch (big leaves)
|- breath (petri dishes)
|- proximity interaction through electromagnetic sensing (cacti)
|- proximit(2): getting closer to a plant will turn some LEDs and thus the plants start sending bits

+ input
|- SD card (putting text through the network)
|- ethernet
|- wifi AP

+ output
|- pen plotter (plot parts for written thesis) // analog
|– could be text or images
|- feedback loop
|– feed the output back into a sender!

+ network listeners
|- monitor (bigger display, observing what’s happening in the network at all times)
|- storage (data storage, power storage)

UI for modules

the modules (eg. plants, sender, receiver, transceiver, …) should carry small OLED display which hold information.
I want to have those 1.3″ (I2C/SPI) white OLED display and establish a common visual language. for that reason i made a quick mockup in a terminal-style, since the displays are very limiting space-wise and I want to have some real time data observable all the time.

fake-interface

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