Friday, December 18, 2009

The end

So the final project:
Materials: High density polyethylene "leaf" shapes routed by the CNC router, with pockets for solar panels and channels for wires. Formica laminated on top of the plastic, both to hide the wires and give it a more finished feel. The Formica is laminated on with contact cement.

Structure: To hold the array to the wall, Mat and I designed a basic structure for which I made the routing file. It essentially consisted of two boxes at each end of the "leaf" axis. One box housed the sensor and the circular plates attached to the leafs to make the spinning motion smoother, the other box provided space for the servos, attachment mechanisms from leaf to servo, wiring and arduinos.

Programming: The leaves will move in a solar tracking motion while the array is plugged in. When someone comes close to the sensor, the leaves will finish the cycle they are in and then begin to respond to the proximity of the person to the sensor and flip depending on the distance they are away. This way, the closer you are the more the panels flip over, etc.

Solar panels: In the end, it was most efficient to use normal coated solar panels instead of the broken ones because they would have a more consistent voltage and would make the whole system work much more consistently.

Installation: In the end, we decided it would be best to hang the stucture on one end, and mount it to the wall on the other. However, it turned out that bolting the whole thing into the wall would simply not work because the drywall was not strong enough to hold our entire surface. We ended up building supports for the back of the surface and hung it on the front side.

Process: Related to final production, this is sort of how the work ended up being divided... Chris spent a lot of time with the CNC router getting final files routed, Mat and I were there as well to help out. We spend an entire night putting individual leaves together. I did most of the gluing, Jason and Alyssa soldered solar panels, Mat and Chris attached servos to the glued together pieces. This process was a lot slower than we had expected. Turns out the laminating idea, which we thought would save us time, actually cost us a lot of time. Another night was spend starting the assembly, wiring, and troubleshooting. The last night we spent mounting to the wall, troubleshooting our servos (and not studying for Structures).

The middle (issues, reworking, redrawing)

The middle section of this project essentially consisted of drawing, redrawing, testing, redrawing, playing around with different kinds of solar panels, and redrawing again)
Group meetings were mostly problem solving session, and we broke into smaller groups a lot to work on smaller issues (Mat, Chris and I would talk about the design, the mechanisms to actually make this thing move, materials, etc) Jason and Michelle mostly worked on white papers during the middle portion of this project and Alyssa helped with miscellaneous tasks. We also ordered solar panels and began soldering and testing those.
Although the design remained relatively similar, it changed slightly every week because of the differences in materials, solar panels, and moving mechanisms we were implementing.

The beginning

So in the beginning there were a lot of struggles.
It was extremely difficult for us (and I think this applies to all the groups) to focus in on what they wanted their project to be.
Every week we would come up with ideas and then feel completely shot down by the end of class on Friday. Every week we felt like we had to start over again.
Week 1: Very basic brainstorming. We hared our interests, aspirations, topics we thought could evolve into interesting projects. Some of the outcomes were projects that interacted with all five senses, projects that improved the quality of life, or tried to conserve resources (our main interest was water). The project evolved into a water purifying system using algae that could fuction both inside and outside. A sort of cubicle system in the Duderstadt center that housed living algae. After further discussion, however, this idea seemed implausible because of the enormous amount of energy that would have to be put into the upkeep of such a system.
Week 2: Microlittering was brought up in one of the meetings and we became interested in a way of either collecting or bringing attention to this problem. The proposal became a collecting bin for microlitter that attempted to harvest energy from burning cigarette butts that were stuck into little slots. By using thermoelectrics we could harvest energy from the burning cigarettes, have algae purifying the air to reduce second hand smoke, and at the same time purify water to dispense to the smoker when he had finished smoking.
Week 3: Proposal shot down by professors again, we go back to the drawing board. An email redefining, or grounding project guidelines was sent out. And the group decided to use kinetic sculptures such as the wooden mirror as inspiration to create a moving array of solar panels. Using mirrors, pistons, and solar panels, we envisioned an array that could be controlled by people moving parabolic mirrors along its surface, sensors picking up the increase in light from the mirrors focusing extra sunlight on them, and then moving according to that stimulus.
g this.

Week 4: None of the professors seemed necessarily excited about this idea either, so we had to redefine once again. We had another major brainstorming session. I suggested we start by writing down everything that was wrong with current solar panels. The list looked something like this: flat, dark, fixed location (which is usually inaccessible), fragile, expensive, not visually pleasing. We became very interested in using fragile unprotected solar cells and finding a way to still use them efficiently in a solar array by finding a way to protect them from the elements. Flipping seemed the most logical way of doinfl
Week 4: Starting to grab hold of something. Finally. So this project was going to be a solar array. The panels would have to be symmestrical if they weren't going to run into one another as they ipped. Chris and Mat and I sat down several times discussing this. A wavelike shape seemed the most logical, not only because of its easy implementation in a flipping mechanism but also because it would go well with the wave-like motion we wanted our array to perform.

Monday, October 26, 2009


So over the entire weekend I was thinking about this project. Sunday night I began to wonder why the group wasn't in touch at all. Turns out I didn't get a single one of the emails this weekend, probably because we are still using the group email from my group's previous project and my name must have not added in correctly.
Today I found out from Chris that we had a meeting last night. I'm still out of the loop about what exactly will be going on now. I think everyone is frustrated and upset. I am especially frustrated and upset because I am completely disconnected from the project and the group at this point.
Hopefully I will have forwarded emails in the next hour or so to give me an idea of what is even going on at this point.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Images and brainstorming

So the thing we've been spending a significant amount of time on tonight is brainstorming uses and potential scales our surfaces can be used at.
We're also working on renderings and diagrams that we can show tomorrow.
Group work tonight has started in two separate teams. Alyssa, Brieana, and I are in the BT Lab working on computer things and Damine, Neil, and Eric are starting the assembly, which we will be joining soon.
I am really excited to see everything come together tonight.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Work this week

We've been working away at our first real smart surface.
The goal is to use water or air as a way to create an interactive surface that in- and deflates. The intent is to use this surface for many different things. It can serve as a device to store thermal energy. During the night, when there is no energy available from the sun, the pockets will be deflated. As solar energy available during the day increases, the bubbles will inflate and the fluid inside the bubbles will begin to collect energy. At this point, our intention becomes a bit blurred. There is disagreement on whether the bubbles should deflate periodically, releasing the heated up fluid to use as an energy source in a remote location, or whether the bubbles act only as a thermal mass or container to warm up a space, and deflate at night time to release heat into adjacent spaces. This disagreement spawned some arguing during a group meeting yesterday. My belief is that it doesn't really matter. The exact use of these smart surfaces should be flexible anyways and we shouldn't be commiting our projects to one specific and exact use. This may not apply to all the projects, but to me it makes a lot more sense to have a clear vision on how the surface will function, and not necessarily exactly where and when.
Tonight we will be pulling together the last pieces of the final project. There is a presentation Powerpoint that needs to be made, and final assembly has to occur.
This has been a hard week for all of us. We're tired, and I know I've been extremely cranky and unmotivated for some reason. I am hoping that finishing this project and having a long weekend to take a deep breath will refresh everyone and get us all excited about the final projects.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Little Projects

Finally a post on all the things we've done so far.
Week 3 we were already making complex things. Like a device that can track and follow a light source. It is really incredible what a group of six people is able to accomplish in one week, not having known one another at all just a short while ago.
I think the most amazing part of this class for me is the way in which we are pushed to do truly amazing things in a very short period of time by combining our skills. We have accomplished tasks I never thought we would be able to.
So after the individual lamp project we worked on this light tracking device. I had a really positive group experience, we all worked really well together. And our device ended up working, too.
However, I realized that the thing we don't plan for always take at least as long as the things that we do. We assembled our light tracking device relatively quickly but spent a lot of time testing and refining it.
This happened again in Week 3, when we had to test and refine the way our heliotropic device worked. I'm sure it will also occur again this week.
This is the reason prototyping is so important. I think what we all need to learn is to stop thinking and start building. This is something that doesn't come up in just this class for me. It's something I think all of us (maybe especially the artists and architects) struggle with. Getting past the concept and actually having something in your hands.
Week 3's device, which tracked the sun throughout the day and reflected its rays with mirrors onto a solar cell, was a really enjoyable challenge. I think my team split up the work really well. In the end, we came out with a well functioning device. Problems of mechanics were solved quickly and efficiently by all team members throwing out ideas. The code was done by the engineers, we did lasercutting and assembly, and troubleshooting together or in small teams.
I think this class is not only valuable for the knowledge we are all acquiring from one another, but for learning to interact productively with people in other disciplines. I think the most fun and interesting part for me is to learn to talk about architectural ideas so that engineers and artists can understand it, and I am sure that the others feel the same way when they have to explain to me how Arduino stuff works.