Floating City

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 6.50.35 AM



We created a “Floating City”, which is a typical part of the fantasy world. It is similar to the existing themes in amusement parks, in which everything is out of this world similar to a dream or a magic place. Floating City is a sign of fantasy that only appears in novels and movies, in this installation, we used physical technology, sensors and code to create an interactive city. We tried to change the normal functions of a balloon by making it hover in air like a magic city while turning the whole room into a fantasy world.

While brainstorming we kept in mind the emotions the visitors might experience while playing like Anticipation, excitements, Anxiousness and happiness among others.  In this project, we reflected and created the atmosphere of happiness, when people interact with our installation, they will feel the similar joy of being in an amusement park.




We used The balloon as the main visual of our installation Because of its typical association with happiness. In most times, balloons are used in happy events, parties, amusement parks and so on.


  • Balloon
  • Helium
  • Paper
  • 3 Bright LED
  • plastic for the structure to hold the motors
  • 2 motors
  • 2 helicopter blades
  • 1 RGB LED ring
  • 1 ping sensor
  • 2 XBEE
  • 2 arduino



Physical theory

To make the balloon hover in air, it’s necessary to add a specific weight depending on the weight of the balloon to resist the floating force of helium. When the weight is balanced, the 2 propellers will make the balloon move forward or turn around.



The Game

Players can use two buttons to control the movement of the balloon. Each button can trigger one of the propellers to change the direction to  either left or right and if pressed together the balloon will move forward. In order to win, the players have to bring the balloon close to the LED ring

which is placed on the wall attached to an ultrasonic sensor that can detect the distance. Once the balloon is close enough to the target, The LED ring will change from blue to different RGB colors.

Function and Code (2 days)















Notes on Process

Brainstorming (Week 1)

We had a very long and intensive brainstorming session to explore ideas and inspirations. Since the theme of this project is about amusement parks, we started with one question: How do people feel while they are in the theme park?

We listed every emotion a person might feel and depending on these emotions we transformed each feeling into an act. Then, depending on these acts we created some concepts and later on we focused on developing the best concepts into an interactive installation. Since we had so many ideas choosing one with the best potentials of development was not easy. At last settled on happiness, mesmerizing, and fantasy like as our main objective of this project. FLOATING CITY




IMG_6492 copy






Physical Theory and Material Preparation (7 days)

Because the physical theory is the most essential part of this installation. We did a lot of research about the floating force and air flow theory so we watched a lot of projects and we tried to do some experiments. To make the helium balloon hover in air, the weight should be very accurate and equal to the floating force. It’s hard to test it because it’s not only about this, it’s also about the motor’s power, weight, and the shape of the propeller, they all together affect the balance of the balloon.


The First Experiment

In the first experiment we used a 3 feet balloon which can only hold 300 g. We had two problems, one with the weight and the other one with the structure. We tried to mount the motors to the balloon but we failed because the structure was not balanced and the fans were not strong enough to move the balloon. For this experiment we made two prototypes for the structure and we also had two motors. At 4 am the balloon burst while experimenting. The whole process was risky because the balloon is very fragile, and it keeps losing helium over time, which leads to a serious problem of balance.


The second Experiment

Even though we were planning to use a 4 foot balloon for our final installation, we went with a 3 feet balloon again because it costs less and in this stage we were not sure if it was going to work or not. We bought different sizes of motors, but the problem was always with finding a light motor with enough power. We tried different sizes of computer fans and we even tested the blades of the drones but they all failed. We finally found the perfect  type of  motor and the right kind of blades (helicopter).


The Final Project

We got the 4 foot balloon on Friday  night because we didn’t want to risk losing helium which will affect the weight of  the balloon. Since we had a late start the last two days were very critical.

However by that time the structure of the propeller was ready. so in this stage we started to think more about the look of the balloon and the dynamics of the game.    We had so many ideas to explore but not enough time. Here are some of the ideas we experimented with.



Choice of motor




Structure for the motors
IMG_6686Model 3


IMG_6661Model 4
_MG_0656Final Model






_MG_0659Attempt to make the encoder sensor steer the balloon


We explored a lot of ideas about how to extend the concept of the balloon. Before the idea of the floating city we thought about the dynamic of the human face using paper since it’s the lightest material we could think of. We wanted to hide the balloon and cover it with three floating faces in which each face can different personality that can only be seen when interacting with. Then we thought about the beauty of origami and how the light can show the details of the folded paper but the problem was that it requires lots and lots of weight as well. Then we moved on to the floating city. At first, we were planning to cover the whole balloon with three different cities but again we have a limit amount of weight.

When we got the balloon and we started testing the concepts, we found it’s impossible to cover the whole balloon because of the weight balance. Finally we decided to only build 3 groups of abstract buildings, and put super bright led inside the buildings, to make it as the buildings at night and every room is turned on. We also wanted to take the concept further and cover the ceiling of the room but because the time and the cost we decided not to.



Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 3.37.10 AM


Final Project








_MG_0863 copy



_MG_0629 copy

IMG_0727 copy

_MG_0751 copy 4


_MG_0856 copy 2






Case Studies

1.RC Car

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 2.52.24 AM

Interaction: person to object, object to object

Technology: radio control, mechanisms

Interaction: person to object, object to object

Technology: radio control, mechanisms

Narrative: simple

RC car is a typical toy that can be played both indoor and outdoor. Using radio-control technology, players can control the movement of the car without touching the wires. Based on this game, we had so many ideas that can be developed from it. There are two main directions to improve this game, the first one is to change the material of the object, and in our installation we changed the car into a balloon, which is more challenging. The second thing is about the design of the controller. In our installation, we added a simple game to give the movement a purpose that can make players immerse in the experience. In terms of interaction, depending on this direction, more complex and challenging game can be designed, using sensors (for example, ultrasonic sensor, pressure sensor, movement sensor and so on) to let players interact with each other, which means adding an object interaction to an object, and it can be even a person to a person.

To transfer the whole room into a fantasy world theme, we developed this example by changing the object to balloon, which was in the shape of a floating city, and we added a simple game to turn to change it into an installation where people feel happy and mesmerized.


2.Bernoulli Floating Ball


Interaction: object to object

Technology: mechanisms, physics

Narrative: simple

As the name suggest, it uses a tube and a fan to create a moving stream of air that keeps a light ball suspended in mid-air, giving evidence for one of the predictions of Bernoulli’s equation.

The theory of this installation is, because the movement of the air, the air pressure above the tube is lower than the other part, so it keeps the ball in the steam of air.

Depending on this theory, this installation can be designed to be more interactive. Each fan can be controlled separately. The relationship between this installation and our project is the concept of floating. We got this inspiration from this installation but then; we developed the same concept into


3.Floating Water Sport Park


Interaction: person to object

Technology: physics

Narrative: simple

The floating playground is a great place to relax and have fun in summer days. This floating water sport park is called Wibit Sports, which was produced by a German watersports company. In this playground, there are many slides , for example, high jump, swing, bridge, balance beam and so on. It transfer the surface of water into a playground.


4.Cyclone Arcade Game

Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 5.33.47 AM

Interaction: person to object

Technology: sensor

Narrative: linear

This arcade game can detect the position of the light. The button can stop the moving light so if the moving light stops in the middle of the circle, the player will get a high score. The theory is similar to our project, judging the result by the distance and how close the player to the light.



Screen Shot 2014-12-11 at 5.33.58 AM

Interaction: person to object, object to object

Technology: sensor, physics, mechanism

Narrative: nonlinear

Drone is one of the sources of our inspiration. Drones can be built with an Arduino and combination of sensors that can receive data from the controller enable it to move on its own. The theory and mechanism is similar to our project, use propeller to raise the weight and control the direction. It’s a typical example for wireless device that have a strong relationship with Arduino. This type of drone can be used in different ways because of it small scale and dexterity.