Final Project Proposal

I ended up working through two project ideas. I will do a bit more testing and research this week before deciding on which one I will take forward.

The first idea is called, for now, “Global IceCube”:

Proposal: Global IceCube

Glass with Ice

Global IceCube is an installation where the visitor can enjoy a relaxing drink of the finest scotch on the rocks…with ice cubes kept as cool as glaciers. After the first sip is taken, the visitor watches their ice cubes melt in a live time-lapse based on data from the World Glacier Monitoring Service. The visitor can slow the melting process by yelling at their drink.


SCENARIO (first draft)

“Global IceCube” is designed to be experienced in a public exhibit / installation setting.

The following is the first draft of an expected user scenario:

An empty room except for a small bar at the far end. A selection of expensive bottles of scotch are neatly arranged in row. A single bar stool sits empty. Red velvet ropes cordon off the area. A sign at the entrance welcomes the visitor and asks her to please take a seat and enjoy a complementary scotch. She selects her favourite.

As she lifts the glass to take her first sip, the coaster — an opaque plastic rectangle, about 2 inches high — glows a soft shade of red. Scrolling text on a small embedded LCD display tells her that the melt rate of her ice cubes is being controlled by the melt rate of glaciers in Northern Asia. The scroll continues, the glacial mass data decreasing as the years speed by. The temperature of the coaster goes up in concert, the ice cubes melting in a live time-lapse, the red hue of the coaster brightening.

The user swears under her breath. She was looking forward to trying this rare scotch.

Once the temperature reaches a certain level, a message is displayed on the LCD screen, informing her that she can slow the melt rate of her ice cubes IF she is willing to yell at her glass.

Intrigued, slightly embarrassed, but wanting to avoid diluting her precious scotch, she begins yelling at her glass. Hearing the sounds of yelling mixed with the creaking of ice, other gallery visitors slow to watch.

Glancing down at her coaster, she notices the temperature dropping on the LCD screen.

Her ice cubes continue to melt but the change is nowhere near as visible as before. She decides to sit and enjoy the scotch and gaze into her glass, knowing that if she sits there long enough, her ice cubes will completely disappear.

*Note: I may experiment with an actor/bartender as part of the installation, giving them more responsibility for communicating system information and relying less on the LCD screen. More on that below.



1. A space, approximately 10′ x 10′, with bar and one bar stool at the far end.

2. On the bar is a low-slung coaster made of opaque plastic and a selection of expensive scotch. An empty glass contains two ice cubes.

3. A sign near the bar directs the user to take a seat and pour themselves a scotch.

4. A pressure sensor on the coaster turns on the USB heater beneath the coaster when the first sip is taken (glass is lifted off the coaster).

5. A data feed of historical glacial mass in Northern Asia raises the temperature of the heater embedded in the coaster.

6. Glacial mass data is communicated to the user via a LCD display embedded in the table/drink coaster.

7. The coaster glows “hotter” as the temperature climbs.

8. Once the temperature reaches a certain level, a message is displayed on the LCD screen, informing the user that they can slow the melt rate of their ice cubes by yelling at their glass.

9. A decibel meter in the coaster/table measures surrounding sound.

10. The louder they yell, the slower the temperature rises, and the longer their ice cubes last.

Below are some project details, process (to-date) notes and questions, related works, and finally, a project plan.



Design Statement:

The vast majority of the world’s population live in cities. Global issues — from climate change to deforestation — are geographically, temporally, and emotionally distant from the vast majority of us. I am interested in exploring ways to bring us into direct contact with global issues by bringing remote data sources and their associated narratives into urban settings, in physical (tangible) and public ways.

This project aims to do that by injecting remote data and narratives of environmental impact into what is normally a private, enjoyable moment.


1 x Arduino Uno
1 x USB heater
1 x pressure sensor
1 x sound sensor
1 x 16×2, RGB on black

3 x bottles of Scotch
1 x heavy glass tumbler

1 x velvet ropes / barriers
1 x bar table

1 x drink coaster*

*At the moment, I’m thinking of the coaster as being made of rectangle of opaque plastic that houses the hardware. The top surface might need to be exposed so that drink sits directly on the surface of the USB heater. Something like these examples, but perhaps not quite as high (not quite as cube-like).

White plastic cubes

Red plasatic cube


I will need code that:

– Recognizes that the glass has been lifted off the coaster for the first time and starts the USB heater
– Code that maps the climate data to temperature levels of the USB heater
– Reports climate data (e.g., glacial melt) and writes it to the LCD screen — so far I’ve found this Arduino LCD library that I plan to investigate further
– At a predetermined temperature, writes a message to the LCD screen that tells the user they can yell to slow down the melt rate
– Listens for decibel levels and controls the temperature of the USB heater
– Handles temperature control with feedback



Some of the things I am still investigating / trying to resolve:

1) Where is the tension?

There needs to be some tension in the user’s experience. At the moment I see it in the impending dilution of the fine scotch. I am also relying on the fact that a private act we normally have control over is now out of our control in a very public way and most people will want to regain control over the situation. Tension / drama might also come from having to perform a bizarre act (yelling at your drink) in a public setting. These will need to be tested early so that adjustments can be made.

2) Should the context — global climate change —  be more or less prominent (or even invisible)?

This could be a pretty bare bones installation — the glass with drink and ice could be presented on its own in a clean, blank setting so that the user interacts with those objects and draws their own conclusions without any context presented.

I don’t want this to be a one note gag: yell at your drink to stop the ice cube melting. Initial user testing of the concept in a bare-bones setting, bore this out — the general feeling was that it was a cute concept, or…absurd, but that was it.  So, while I don’t want to hit it on the nose, I think the user needs to be in on the underlying themes I’m playing with. I’m inclined to include fairly clear, dry messaging — simply presenting the data that controls the melt rate of the ice cubes — but this will have to be tested. At the moment I see the communication happening through a LCD screen embedded in the drink coaster / table.

3) How does the user know what to do?

…specifically, that they can yell at their drink to slow down the melt rate? One option is simple messaging using the LCD screen. Another option I will explore is to use an actor to play the role of bartender. In addition to conveying basic information, a human actor might enhance the physicality of the scene / installation, and also open up opportunities for some interesting ad-libbed interactions with the user.

Another option might be integrating tabletop/surface computing, but not for this version. More on that below.

4) What is causing the ice cubes to melt?

Of course, the ice cubes will melt by being at room temperature, but I am interested in bringing external environmental phenomena to bear on the melting of the ice cubes. My initial thought was to drive the temperature up (using a USB heater) according to some kind of glacier data: changes in glacier mass balance, average annual melt rate for a particular geographic collection of glaciers, or perhaps even better, a specific glacier with a name and location that the user can more easily relate to.

The potential problem here is…well, the glacial pace of change. If there was a one-to-one ratio then the user would have to sit there for at least a decade to see any change. The glacial pace could be something to play with, but I am not as interested in exploring that with this particular installation.

The one way to treat this — described above — is to speed things up and create a time-lapse relationship between the glacial data and the melt rate that the user observes with their own eyes as the ice cube responds to the heating of the coaster.

For the purposes of this installation I will likely use historical data, however for future versions I will explore real-time or near real-time feeds.

The other approach I will explore in the research phase of this project is to bring in a more direct, rapidly changing data stream. For example, cycles of traffic volume on the DVP, C02 emissions from the Alberta Tar Sands. Finally, I will also explore the idea of integrating the user’s own carbon footprint data (from available calculators like Zerofootprint’s “One Minute Calculator”.



A few brainstorm sketches made along the way:

Brainstorm sketch 1Brainstorm sketch 2Brainstorm sketch 3



Aspects of the following projects/images provided inspiration for this project.

Project inspirations

Click to enlarge

The following are specific projects that I found after an initial scan for related works:

Flame Tube:

Flame Tube

“When you play a constant-frequency tone into the Flame Tube, it displays a perfect sine wave of fire. Play music, and the flames make a wild display caused by big, air-moving bass beats, standing waves from resonant frequencies, and other acoustic phenomena.”

The Stock Market Skirt:

Stockmarket Skirt

“This mediawork also utilizes a webcam to capture and display real-time images of the hemline as it fluctuates. A website simultaneously displays these images as well as the stock market quotes which are controlling the length of the hemline. This site is made available in conjunction with the exhibition of this installation.”

iBar, surface compting

"iBar" surface computer

And finally, something I might investigate for future versions is what contribution surface computing might make to this installation. “iBar” is quite a different project, but it showcases potentially interesting interactions and possibilities for simple communication or perhaps even narrative-based approaches.



Week of November 7th:
– Complete related works research
– Complete technical exploration: USB heaters, sensors, LCD screens
– Research data sources
– Write pseduocode
– Begin coding individual sections
– Complete user testing concept

Week of November 14th:
– Installation materials research and sketch
– Prototype circuit / code, testing
– Obtain and clean glacier (or other) data, and test integration
– Integrate code

Week of November 21st:
– System testing and debugging
– User Testing
– Final circuit production
– Installation production: coaster (housing)
– Gather additional installation materials

Week of November 28th:
– Overall refinement and documentation preparation

Wednesday, November 30th: critique


My second idea for a final project is called, for now, “Moving Portraits”:

Proposal: Moving Portraits

*Since this idea is second in line behind “Global IceCube,”  it is a little less developed.

Moving Portraits places the user in front of a blank canvas on a wall that begins to populate with rhythmically moving spheres. An analog playspace/studio of oversized dials and sensors is set up in front of the canvas. Through a series of physical, whole body interactions, the user builds up a dynamic self portrait that responds in real-time to their actions. At any moment they can choose to network their “studio” with another remote user and merge their individual creations into a mesh of moving pixels that respond and play off of each other.

Design Statement:

This project aims to explore classic ideas of self-portraiture in an Internet age. Classical self-portrait techniques, fun house mirrors, Skype (long-distance video communication), and physical, analog art creation methods (e.,g finger painting) are used as inspiration.

I am also interested in moving the interaction space from sitting at a desk — my initial Processing/Arduino sketch — to standing / moving about in a larger space.


This project is based on one of my previous Arduino/Processing sketches:

The physical installation will take the form of a classical portrait mounted on a wall. One idea is to build an antique frame around my iMac and hang it from a wall. The space in front of the canvas (screen) would then become the user’s workspace.

self portraite with antique frame

In the current sketch, one analog input (via a potentiometer) controls one element of the sketch (overall ball speed).

For this project I will add several inputs, all of them involving big, fleshy controls or physical movements. For example, I will create over sized fabric potentiometers that are manipulated by hands, feet, or other objects.

These are inspired by the fabric potentiometers demonstrated on the website How To Get What You Want.

Fabric potentiometerFabric Potentiometer #2Fabric potentiometer #3

Other possible interactions include large push buttons, user-created sound, or motion.

In addition to changing the overall speed of the spheres, analog inputs might change the number of spheres making up the user’s portrait, colours that appear in the sketch, and sound.

I will also experiment with injecting a social component to the user experience, perhaps enabling the user to add (or randomly adding) a second video feed that is displayed on the canvas, or setting up two canvases.

 Related Works:

There is a fair amount of work being done with interactive walls or mirrors, including fully  digital walls/mirrors. For example, the “interactive forest,” interactive mirror, or this “real-time typography processing using webcam input.”

Perhaps the most interesting work I have come across so far is by the artist Daniel Rozin, for example, his Wooden Mirrors or Trash Mirror.


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