Course: Creation & Computation
Digital Futures, 2019
Jun Li, Jevonne Peters, Catherine Reyto, Rittika Basu, Arsalan Akhtar
Eggsistential workspace is a somatosensorial platform intended to communicate motivation and companionship between two participants communicating from distant spaces through transitional chromatic values. This personalised bonding experience enables participants to convey their activity while in their individual workspaces, and more specifically, their laptop or desktop PC. With the motion of their wrists rising and falling while in the act of typing, pressure sensors (nestled in a mousepad made from a balaclava and light stuffing) activate the RGB patterns of the corresponding participant’s set of lights. The faster they type, the greater the activity of the lights, and the slower they type, the more their inertia is echoed by the decreased activity of the light patterns. We have all experienced that feeling of being strapped to one’s desk under the pressure of a deadline, as well as the lack of community if working alone is a frequent occurrence. We thought it made for a fun, expressive but non-intrusive way of keeping one another company while working at home or in a solitary-feeling workspace.
One example of telepresence that inspired our ideation process was the project titled The Trace6 from El Rastro. In this installation, two people in remote rooms common space with the help of light visuals and sound which is triggered by a sensor when one individual enters a room. This results in them occupying the exact same position in the space.
In addition to that, another great use of ultraviolet lights for telepresence art installation could be observed from the project titled “Miscible “7. This work from Manuel Chantre and Mathieu Le Sourd used sensory, light and principles of chemistry to make two liquids homogeneously while participants were in remote locations. In this performance, participants from remote locations are expected to mix the liquid with UV lights in a way to mix them perfectly. Each UV light mixes to create a perfect blend of liquid and colour.
Ideation & PROcESS
In our first brainstorming session, we agreed from collective past experience that it would be wise to keep the idea simple. The very first topic we discussed was the language of colour, and how hues are interpreted differently in different countries. But we struggled to find a tangible means of working with colour translation, given the complexity of networking. We brainstormed several ideas, explored online examples and struggled to procure elements from previous projects. One of the dismissed proposals involved creating a winter scene (via graphics in Processing) wherein participants could collectively monitor parameters of day-to-night transition (changing the background colour), intensify the snow-storm via wind (rain/snow particle code), wavering opacity, amplify audio effects etc.
Through the iterations of our project, our common interests aligned and a concept began to take shape. We were inspired by the concept of ‘Telepresence’ from Kate’s class, especially the ‘LovMeLovU’ project by Yiyi Shao. (“Shao”) . We were all drawn to the idea of remote interaction between two individuals, in two separate spaces, by means of two displays of light. We finalised on an output of 50 RGB LEDs set for 2 rooms. (bitluni’s lab)  It did mean upping the ante in a big way, but we had two group members with experience in our corner. It meant they had a chance to fulfil some of the objectives from a previous experiment and gave the rest of us the opportunity to learn about working with RGBs. We also recognized that there was a gap between the code capabilities of some group members compared to others, and it meant a lot to us to all have a hand in writing code in some capacity. Since Arduino has by now become a fairly comfortable language, it further emphasized the desire to add an extra layer to the project requirements, in that we could all work, code and test together, learning from one another along the way.
Because of the visual appeal and chromatic range offered by RGBs, we were determined from the outset to incorporate them in the output design. We were really taken by the idea of being able to illuminate a friend’s room from a remote location, and it was important that the display interaction feel emotive and intuitive. At first, we imagined this action taking place with hugs and squeezes (by way of a stuffed toy or pillow), sensor-driven to create an effective response in the corresponding display. A light squeeze of a pillow could light up a friend’s bedroom on a dreary and perhaps lonely evening, feeling like a hug and a small gift of an uplifting atmosphere. A hard squeeze, by contrast, might generate a bright and panicked effect in my friend’s room, letting them know I’m feeling anxious.
Knowing that we had our work cut out for us, we made a list of benchmarks on a timeline. We had laboured away for 9 hours on Saturday, learning how PubNub worked and by early evening, sending switch values through PubNub to Arduino and finally to Processing. That was the big hurdle we had been unsure about, but thanks to Jevi’s skills and clear communication, we were able to build a clear path that everyone was able to understand and work with. The achievement gave us confidence, and we set about storyboarding an ideal setup: two modes, one using Arduino and another using Touch Designer. We were very interested in trying out both systems; Arduino because we all knew our way around a bit, and Touch Designer for the added benefit of effects as well as what Jun Li could show us. By the next session though, when testing the LEDs out across the network, we encountered a major issue before even getting that far. To our surprise, the Nano could only power a small portion (about 5 to 10) of the RGB strips (out of 50 per strip). This wasn’t enough for a significant display. We were able to resolve some but not all of the issue by using Megas instead.
As the days past, the stuffed toy or pillow took on various forms… eventually landing on wristwarmers. We moved in this direction because for one thing, we were apprehensive about the surprise challenges that the pressure sensors might present. It seemed logical that the enclosure is easily accessible, and that the sensors have as much contact with the point of pressure as possible. With wrist-warmers, we could control the variable resistance by gripping and relaxing our hands. It felt like a very natural use and appropriate for the (very sudden) change in season. The fact that wrist-warmers are less common / expected than gloves was a bonus. We eventually settled our design on an ergonomic support pad for typing. There was a more refined simplicity in this concept. No coding language (in the form of squeeze strength of the number of squeezes to communicate) was needed, in fact, no thought on the user’s end was required at all. Instead, they would carry on as they normally would, typing away at their work.
It took some time to work out the display for the lights. We had decided on using the two south-facing adjacent walls in the DF studio, modelled as bedroom settings. We became invested in the notion of adjustable displays (and it still seems like a cool idea), where individual strips could be attached at hinges while supporting the LED strip. We envisioned participants configuring the display themselves, and hanging it from hooks we’d fashioned in the window sill. Ultimately this plan proved unfeasible and we set it aside as a divergent. We settled on the hexagon-shaped mounts because they made practical sense: they were good housing for the narrowly-spaced LED strips and were less time-consuming to produce. But we opted for the hexagons because in the meantime we had run into a major issue with the LEDs: even with the use of Megas, we could only generate power into the full strip if they were lit at 50% opacity, max. Thus having the lights configured in a cluster meant optimizing the light effect.
We had early on opted for using ping pong balls as diffusing shells for the bulbs, and had wisely ordered them in just enough time from Amazon. We went through a lengthy process of making holes in 100 balls, then fastening them to the hexacon rigs.
Meanwhile, we had devised a system for the sensors, fastening them snuggly into sewn-felt pouches intact with velcro openings for easy removal. These were designed to fit in the openings of the wrist-warmers, but after running into some unexpected complications with this system, we placed them instead inside mousepads improvised from balaclavas.
Arduino + Processing + Pubnub Implementation
For the default implementation, we used two channels to communication between the rooms — each room published and listen to seperate channels corresponding with their rooms. We had issues with the port detection of the Arduino on certain computers but the root cause was never determined. Once the port had connected and maintained a stable connection, the communication from Arduino to Processing, to Pubnub and back could be made.
TD + Arduino Implementation
In this experiment, We brought more possibilities to this project with the experience of Jun Li. We tried to challenge ourselves by utilizing different techniques to achieve the same effect. In setup, we utilizing TCP/IP internet protocol instead of the PubNub to send the same data to control the LED lights. After testing Processing, we found the colour didn’t appear as what we designed, we tried and debugged a lot of ways to fix that colour problem. We thought it might be an issue with the hardware. After researching, we realized the model of LED lights is a bit different from the one that had been used in Jevi, Li and Arsalan’s Experiment 2. The first set was WSB2811, whereas the sets purchased for Experiment 4 are WSB2811. It turned out the Red, Green channels are switched. After editing the data, its effect and it worked the same as the way of using PubNub. All the interactive effects and settings were performed in Touchdeisgner and send through TCP/IP internet to Arudino in real-time.
Arduino + Processing + Pubnub + TD Implementation
Because of the powerful functions of Touchdesigner, which can easily perform and design a lot of effects, we had tried and brought TD into the PubNub way to meet the project requirement. So the workflow became more complicated and difficult in this implement. We tried to bring 2 Arduino on each side and 2 serial communication happened on the same side. One for receiving the data from processing coming from the other side, another for sending date the received data to TD and send it back to the LED light. Theoretically and Technically it can be done, however, we found it was difficult to send and receive data among much software and we don’t have enough time to achieve the same effect like above 2 ways in the end.
It seemed clear from our first brain-storming session that we were going to work well together as a group. We had a diverse set of skills that we were eager to pool together to come up with something especially creative. The challenge inspired us and we were ready to put in the work.
The early success we’d achieved after putting in long hours on the weekend might have given us a false sense of confidence. It put us ahead of the game and made us feel that since we’d overcome the biggest obstacle (networking from Arduino to Processing to Pubnub, end-to-end), the rest seemed easy enough to achieve. We set into production of the materials while devising a library of messages that users could communicate to one another, by means of pulses on the pressure-sensors and and lighting. What we failed to foresee was assembly issues with the sensors. We took it for granted that they were made at least a little durably (seeing as they are commonly used in wearables projects), but that turned out being far from the case. In spite of protecting the soldering with heat-shrunk tubing, encasing the a wires with cardboard backing, and harnessing them as securely as possible in the hand-sewn pouches, we went through one sensor after another, the plastic ends shredding with the slightest movement. We didn’t yet know we could repair them on our own (and have yet to try although it was investigated after we broke the collective bank), resulting in trip after trip to Criterion throughout that snow-filled week. After our early successes, and especially once we saw the extent to which we could actually communicate messages via lighting effects (we had even devised our own list of messages), it was so disheartening to have the project fall apart each time we tested on account of the extreme fragility of the sensors. It was a major factor in pivoting the concept from wrist-warmers to a mouse-pad (which involved no movement of the sensor), a decision that unfortunately took place too late in the game and didn’t allow us sufficient time for proper testing with the rest of our setup.
List of messages derived from a library of Arduino lighting effects
Hindsight is always 20/20, and there is no way in this case we could have anticipated this problem unless we had researched “How fragile are variable resistor pressure sensors when placed in clothing?”. But we will know to be that specific about troubleshooting and testing well beforehand next time around.
It was overwhelmingly frustrating to have our demo fall apart to the extent it did right before the presentations. We’d had such a strong start, and working on this project had been an invigorating, devoted process for our group. Overall it was a great experience, one that involved a great deal of learning and collaboration, creativity. In spite of falling a little short in the demo, we had succeeded in some pretty amazing results along the way.
- Shao, Yiyi. “Lovmelovu”. Yiyishao.Org, 2018, https://yiyishao.org/LovMeLovU.html. Accessed 8 Nov 2019.
- bitluni’s lab. DIY Ping Pong LED Wall V2.0. 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xFh8uiw7UiY. Accessed 8 Nov 2019.
- Hartman, Kate, and Nicholas Puckett. “Exp3_Lab2_Arduinotoprocessing_ASCII_3Analogvalues”. 2019.
- Hartman, Kate, and Nicholas Puckett. November 5 Videos. 2019, https://canvas.ocadu.ca/courses/30331/pages/november-5-videos. Accessed 8 Nov 2019.
- Kac, E (1994). Teleporting An Unknown State. Article. Retrieved from: http://www.ekac.org/teleporting_%20an_unknown_state.html
- Rastro, E. (1995). The Trace. Retrieved from: http://www.lozano-hemmer.com/artworks/the_trace.php
- Chantre, M. (2014). Miscible. Retrieved from: http://www.manuelchantre.com/miscible/