Box o’ Secrets by Pui, John, Andrew & Cris

The idea for the Box o’ Secrets began with the desire to make online communication more human.  We thought about the distance between family and loved ones and wondered whether that gap could be bridged with the technology we are working with.

At some point, our conversation turned to the content of the communication as opposed to the medium of communication.  We thought that one thing loved ones share are secrets.  In many ways we give them to others so that they can help bear the weight.  We looked at Post Secret and its popularity.  Post Secret is a space where people can safely release their most guarded secrets; funny ones, sweet ones, dark ones.


At this point, our project pivoted and we wanted to create something that would receive secrets as input and output them in a way that anonymises and transforms the secret into something different … maybe beautiful.  Transmogrify if you will.

There were two things to consider in this project: the input and the output.  The input was important because it was the interface through which a person would feel comfortable enough to divulge a secret.  At first, we wanted to create a wearable device that was activated by gesture.  We thought of creating a pair of mittens with a built in microphone that would be activated by the gesture we make when whispering in someone’s ear.  We also thought about using a can attached to a string to evoke a sense of childhood and nostalgia.


Our conversation around output went down many routes.  We debated over how much to anonymise the speaker and how much to abstract the secret.  At the very beginning of the project we were interested in data visualization, so discussed many ways that we could use the fluctuations in speech to activate some kind of visualization.  We looked at data visualization artists like Aaron Koblin and the way that he creates animations to illustrate data in an interesting and beautiful way.

However, we felt that to do this, though technically challenging for us, would be in some ways expected and straight forward.  So we wanted to think about ways that the secret could be visualized in a physical way.  We looked at an artist like Zimoun, who uses simple mechanisms but implemented in a powerful way.

We thought about creating a mobile or a spinning lantern that would move and react to the voice of the secret teller.  We also wanted there to be some artifact of the experience, so decided to incorporate a long exposure image from a DSLR camera mounted in the installation.

In the end, we decided that the only experience of the visualization the viewer should experience was the final image of the long exposure photograph.  The entire mechanism that visualizes the secret would be miniaturized and then hidden from view.



In terms of input, the mittens proved more difficult than expected.  Streaming audio over the arduino seemed not possible for our technical abilities in the timeframe.  We pivoted the concept slightly to create an onscreen interface that would link to the Box o’ Secrets, which would record the visualized secret then upload the outputted image to a Tumblr Blog through ‘If This Than That.’

The main challenge was to get the servos to react to the voice in such a way so that the outputted visual would be a unique reflection of the incoming voice.  We also had many discussions around how the final image should look.  We played with a  variety of combinations of servos, LEDs, springs and reflective paper.  The choice of making the visualization physical was also intended in order to make the final result unexpected or unpredictable.


Please see follow the link to a diagram of the system flow and a video for the development process:


Processing Code

Arduino1 Code

Arduino2 Code 

In the process of experimentation we created some beautiful images that were created with a combination of arduino controlled servos and lights and human controlled camera.  We believe this could be an avenue for further exploration in the future.  However, we were unable to recreate this type of image from a fully automated system.  This was our favourite image.


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