Lifestreams film

March 7, 2013 by · Comments Off on Lifestreams film 

A new film to explain some of the technical aspects to our Lifestreams project and how we created the Lifecharm shells.

Lifestreams from Proboscis on Vimeo.

Health, Bones, Teeth, Shells and biomineralisation

December 4, 2012 by · Comments Off on Health, Bones, Teeth, Shells and biomineralisation 

This post is one of several exploring the research and creative processes Giles and I have undertaken for our project Lifestreams, an Art+Tech collaboration with industry partner, Philips R&D in Cambridge as part of Anglia Ruskin University’s Visualise programme.

What I did not yet know – and have been discovering – is just incredible!

Our explorations for Lifestreams initiated further research into bio–mineralisation in animals such as bones and seas-hells. It has opened my eyes – even more widely – into the utter inventiveness of Nature.

I studied architecture and spend several years in design research working on the analysis of morphology and dynamics at urban and architectural scale; e.g. how streets and public spaces and their features are organised and how people move through them – so, naturally, I have an ongoing fascination with patterns large and small, both man made and natural, as inspiration and reference for design ideas.

From this basis and with previous personal explorations into biomimetics many years ago (screen sculpture), I thought that it would be good to connect the idea of lifecharms and our shell concepts with the actual processes of bio–mineralisation as they occur in living systems.

To do this, I would need to have a better understanding of the real thing. Extraordinarily the last 30 years or so can really be seen as a new dawn of human discovery of the nano-scale in nature: Many scientists have been uncovering the most amazing natural phenomena of biological fabrication, self-assembly and material composition at the micro-scale.

Knowledge and research into bio–mineralisation has been of huge area of interest in biophysics, chemistry, medical and biological science. It has opened up new routes in areas such as tissue engineering for bone healing, design and production of prosthetics (i.e. limbs etc) and insights into nano-technologies and materials. For instance, this has helped in identifying bio-ceramics for bone scaffolds that could be used in medical procedures. Research into bio-mineralisation has prompted many innovations and holds a further promise in others fields well beyond medical sciences.

So setting out with virtually no understanding of bio-mineralisation I have come to learn that most living systems – ourselves included – are in fact expert at producing hard mineral deposits by growing them in crystal form. Organisms mix living tissue structures with the creation of a variety of crystalline substructures in very deliberate (and often quite subtly different) ways.

These structures of interlacing soft tissues and crystals of different configurations act as composites which are employed within our bodies to do different things; so you could say that ‘growing’ is more than just about purely organic matter but incorporates and embraces the growing and connecting of crystalline structures in our bodies all the time. We effectively grow our own bio-material composites: we have a variety of patterns in our different tissues that make these crystals assemble in very particular structural ways to – for example – construct bones that act as structural internal support, exoskeletons, teeth, sea-shells, glass-spines, beaks, etc.

Glass Sponge Anchoring Fiber...

The mineral/ crystalline deposits that animals and plants can form vary incredibly and – to my great surprise – have even produced such strange objects such as up to 1 meter long glass rods (spicules)

Venus' Flower Basket (Euplectella aspergillum)
(capable of transmitting light similar to a glass fiber) in certain species of glass sponges

and even metal–composite teeth in molluscs!

Growth really encompasses quite complex interactions within cellular tissues where deeply integrated biological, chemical and physical processes result in layers of both living tissue and hard mineral deposits.

Human and animal bones, animal teeth and seashells alike are chemical compositions that are produced by cell tissue acting as templates and scaffolds. These provide the structure along which biologically controlled mineral deposits are formed. As well as the effect of many different chemical compositions, the patterning of these varies greatly depending on the functions they fulfil and what stresses they are under.

One extraordinary type of bio-mineral composite can be found in the teeth of chitons, a type of mollusc that even incorporates iron; in particular an iron oxide called magnetite which together with the organic components make them three times harder than human teeth.

So what good is this to our project research? Well, we are now exploring these phenomena to design a sculptural piece that will use aspects of this bio-mineral composite growth approach in nature. Our experiments are on the way so watch this space!

Sea Shell Maths

October 16, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

This post is one of several exploring the research and creative processes Giles and I have undertaken for our project Lifestreams, an Art+Tech collaboration with industry partner, Philips R&D in Cambridge as part of Anglia Ruskin University’s Visualise programme.

Our interest in using sea shells as the basis for making tangible lifecharms meant that I had to dive deeper into the maths, biology and development of shells to get a handle on how they grow and also to understand a bit more about what actually goes on at a physiological level. Fortunately there is a long history of the study of shell shapes and morphologies by different disciplines, biologists, mathematicians, artists et al to draw upon.

In my research I have come across many descriptions and models of shells, ranging from mathematical descriptions to those exploring the more complex biological processes involved in their genesis: these for example incorporate the growth of so called cellular templates which then undergo bio-mineralisation solidifying a soft scaffold of tissue into a rigid structural extension of the shell.

Essentially shells represent a geometric pattern that nature embraces and uses repeatedly in many biological structural systems such as the cochlea in our ears. sunflower blossoms and pine tree kernels. It is the the logarithmic helico-spiral. Imagine a flat logarithmic spiral that is then dropped from its centre on to the top of a cone and the spiral path then successively drops and drapes itself onto the surface of the cone.

This results in the 3-dimensional spiral that provides the growth direction for a generating curve which deposits different types of cellular tissue in sequence. The generating curve moves in three dimensions twisting, turning and changing dimension and rotation, at times even (depending on the shell  species)  changing its edge shape along the route. This then creates the intermittent bulges and outgrowths and sometimes sinusoidal waves along the shell edge.

Different types of shells come to being from a variety of generating curves and shapes that expand along the length of this spiral path as the shell grows. The height or flatness of the cone determines the compression of the helico-spiral on its central axis. As the shell grows the leading edge can vary in shape following rhythmic patterns or sporadic outgrowths. This has equivalents in natural growth phenomena in plants and becomes visible for example as  growth rings in trees.

As a shell grows in volume it simultaneously adds variable patterning on the exterior surface of the shell affecting growth based both on environmental and health factors. The surface colouring of the shell is patterned through a diffusion reaction process taking place just at the outward facing shell edge. The mollusc itself is never in direct control of this external pattern as it grows and even within the same species these patterns can vary dramatically.

What has been interesting in taking the formulas as a departure point into a series of parametric and other model variants is that the math evidently only is an approximation of the sea shell form. Some nuances are missed in the pure formula  generated shell approach and this became evident when I changed the way I was modelling my shells in different systems and moved away from using straight functional geometric models to more iterative and generative types.

Further reading:

D’Arcy Thompson: On Growth and Form @ InternetArchive

Seashells: the plainness and beauty of their mathematical description

Seahsells @ Wolfram MathWorld

D. Fowler, H. Meinhardt, and P. Prusinkiew, Modeling Seashells



Shell drawings

September 25, 2012 by · Comments Off on Shell drawings 

This post is one of several exploring the research and creative processes Giles and I have undertaken for our project Lifestreams, an Art+Tech collaboration with industry partner, Philips R&D in Cambridge as part of Anglia Ruskin University’s Visualise programme.

I have talked in a previous post on lifecharms to shells about talismanic, engaging and tangible transfigurations of lifestyle and health data in the form of sea shells. I now  needed to explore the real thing. Off I went on another little spree of discovery both on-line and the real world, picking up a variety of ‘snails’ trails if you will.

I had been making some initial sketches of shells whilst looking at some of the mathematical models that have been around for shells (more of this in a later post) and got deeper into the strange and wonderful world of  shell forms to pick p ideas for forms and processes that I could draw on in the making of our own shells.

Aside from producing a large haul of images from various  on-line searches I wanted to make sure I would see a broad variety of the ‘real thing’. So being in London I went on to do take some pictures of ancient and contemporary shells in the wonderful and inspiring  Natural History Museum within its fossil and invertebrate collections.

From these I made a lot of sketches for our life-streams shells so that I could get a deeper taste and sense of the kind of shell shape variations that exist. To me these sketches helped me to gain a clearer more visual understanding of some of the various archetypes and key differences in different shell structures that I came across. It got me to think about routes for the shell modelling process I have been evolving alongside on the computer and the 3d printers.

I had looked at both ancient fossils which had lost any of their external pigmentation as well as contemporary shells that still retained all their wonderful colour and detail. I am continuously amazed at the range and expressiveness of shapes and colours pigmentation of shells that are out there.


From lifecharm to shell

September 19, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

This post is one of several exploring the research and creative processes Giles and I have undertaken for our project Lifestreams, an Art+Tech collaboration with industry partner, Philips R&D in Cambridge as part of Anglia Ruskin University’s Visualise programme.

From its beginning our collaboration with Philips R&D had a focus on lifestyle and health as the two key subject areas so they have formed an integral part of our dialogue and explorations. We’ve spent time in our discussions making and reflecting on the cross-connections between the two; how they intersect and influence each other. As our discussions evolved, we became more interested in some of the challenges for expressing and documenting personal and collective lifestyle choices visibly or invisibly affecting personal health and quality of life.

Stimulating personal motivation for change or reinforcement of positive activities through new means of reflection emerged as goal worth exploring further. Our primary purpose has been driven by thinking of ways and means to make lifestyle choices visible as a means for reflection and possible behaviour change.

We debated what the possible scale and scope of factors affecting our lifestyles were that could be points of reflection; what the nature is of the need for both individuals and groups to see and reflect on the impact of their own and collective choices on health, well-being and quality of life. Our enquiry ranged from evolving ways to make visible and re-enforce positive patterns to  ways of making bigger changes to negative patterns. Our aim is to be able to engage people both through individual and collective reflection and debate.

For instance, what could be vehicles for change that have broad reach spanning young and old without requiring great depth of knowledge to ‘read’ complex information? What could be more emotive, accessible, tangible and shareable? That could indeed inspire a visceral and instinctual form of personal and public reflection? What would form could this take?

Our response to these questions was to take totemic objects as emotive points of reference – iconic and tactile tools for ongoing reflection. We began planning to evolve talismans of self-health, personal pieces that could be carried around on a keyring or as jewelery to remind ourselves of what matters to us. The might be like the charms of old, bracelets embellished with objects, tracing key events and people in our lives but extended to become markers for health and quality of life.

From these ideas of the charm we searched for physical forms that could act as personal objects attached to life, as symbols that are already in the public mind. We arrived at the seashell.

Presenting the Lifecharm shells

August 9, 2012 by · Comments Off on Presenting the Lifecharm shells 

This morning we are off to Cambridge for our final meeting with our collaboration partners at Philips R&D, where we will be presenting the lifecharm shells we have generated from our health data and talking about where we will be taking the project next.

Of fly-eye domes and public health data sets

August 8, 2012 by · Comments Off on Of fly-eye domes and public health data sets 

This post is one of several exploring the research and creative processes Giles and I have undertaken for our project Lifestreams, an Art+Tech collaboration with industry partner, Philips R&D in Cambridge as part of Anglia Ruskin University’s Visualise programme.

As part of our quest to explore making health data tangible we began to research means of experiencing larger volumes of collective health data as a complementary experience to the ‘lifecharms‘ illustrating individual data streams. We imagined these different strands operating in tandem to provide micro and macro perspectives on how we can forge new relationships to health and wellbeing.

The question immediately arose of how we could achieve meaningful translations of complex health data. Our initial solution was to turn public health data (derived from Network of Public Health Observatories) into varied surface expressions on a larger installation work, allowing a degree of participation from direct public interaction to inform manipulations of the public data sets. To achieve this we thought about the production of manipulated stacking surfaces that would aggregate into a communal structure.

Our idea for manifesting this health data was to take each data set, determine its dimensions (i.e. which and how many data ranges does it have, what do they represent? e.g. mortality rates, obesity, etc.) and take each of these to be the driving parameters of a set number of ways to cut, punch, emboss or bend thin sheets of material, either paper, card or metal. We would then create one layer of material for each data dimension, apply the parameter controlled action for it (ie, print, cut, punch, bend; where and by how much) and do this for each of the data dimensions.

For each dataset (by ward or time span) we would end up with a stack of screens which together would define a unique surface or mask that would be specific in both tactile and visual effect. These stacked screens would make up the facets to be collated into a larger physical structure that would evolve out of the geometry of the base shape and be assembled by members of the audience to ‘collectively grow’ the public health data installation piece.

We proposed to use Buckminster Fuller‘s fly-eye dome as the base for a slightly larger than human size dome structure which would rest on a tripod-like support structure under which visitors could move to look up and in. The fly-eye dome is a design variation on Bucky’s earlier geodesic dome structures lending itself well as a projection structure. We planned to use it to present transformed public health datasets which become layered and patterned masks to produce alternating light and shadows from within the dome surface. Each facet, or mask, would be representative of a specific grouping of public health data, either by time interval or by geographic proximity.


In thinking about how this would work as an installation, we  came up with two different projection approaches creating two types of experiences:

  1. Outward facing masks with switch-able internal illumination creating projections that are cast on the gallery wall interiors and,
  2. Inward facing masks with with external illumination where the audience steps inside the dome structure manipulating an exterior light source (or  ‘sun’) around the dome structure by hand.

A very attractive benefit of collaborating with Philips is their expertise and product range in professional lighting. In particular, Philips has developed a product series and related technologies called LivingColours which we considered to be a good option for the illumination in our fly-eye domes.

Despite developing this concept quite far, we eventually moved away from it as we felt it didn’t encompass enough of a sense of the living and organic processes which we want to engage people in. In many ways we felt it was moving back towards static data visualisations that are too readily ‘readable’ and which soon cease to have the power to engage people in an ongoing and reflective relationship with how public data can be seen as part of the environment in which we exist.

3rd generation of 3D printed Shells for Visualise

August 2, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

Our third round of shells fresh out of fabrication is here!

I am excited that we now have shells that are more organic and life-like coming through. To drive this additional complexity I’ve been experimenting with mixing the combinations of data and exploring how these generate more ‘organic’ forms as they are fed into different parameters of the growth grammar.

In my last post I described how I’ve developed a bespoke shell model by programming in JAVA with growth grammars which start out with mathematical principles. These project a spiral onto the surface of a cone in 3D for the primary growth curve. Then I begin to tweak and subvert the surface shape as it grows, adjusting the rhythms and patterning of the data to add a degree of interpretation.

This is very interpretive and not hard science; it is not classic data-visualisation or information graphics. I take sets of health and lifestyle data and make deliberate decisions in how I interpret what kind of ‘expression’ they generate. It is highly designed and crafted process which I am evolving to achieve both an aesthetic outcome, but also one where the data plays a key role that may not be transparent or simply ‘readable’ like a graph, but rather becomes emotive.

This is important and different in that we are trying to produce a sense of meaning that is not read through classic symbols but rather through a tactile and visual experience. The tangible form of the shells embodies rhythm, resonance or dissonance; attraction or repulsion.

What we are attempting is not just a ‘transduction’ of health data into physical form, but a transformation of how we develop relationships with that data and what it means for us. The data is captured and transfigured into the physical form of the shells – producing something which is magical, transformative and which cannot be easily read but is heavy with the potential for meaning. The shells become more like talismans than just static instantiations of data.

This is very different to a technique that just takes data and processes it into a visual or physical form. It is not about numbers but about a model of generating shells that are qualitative, meaning producing and change making. It is about how a person could pick up a shell and begin to read their own meanings into it, knowing that it is generated from their own health data. Knowing that the subtle but strange variations in each shell indicate something to be explored in our lifestyles and behaviours.

This third generation of shells are moving further towards acquiring a ‘life’ of their own, becoming objects of meaning in the world. They are shaped by ‘lived constraints’ in the growth model and are getting expressions that go beyond pure mathematics.

I’m now working on a fourth generation of shells, this time using data posted on the internet using social media.


2nd generation of 3D printed Shells for Visualise

July 25, 2012 by · Comments Off on 2nd generation of 3D printed Shells for Visualise 

I have just come back from the Digital Manufacturing Centre 3D printing lab at UCL where we just had our second round of shells made for us.

This time around you can see shells which are beginning to have some life (or data to be exact) put in to them. They are ‘grown’ by using the health data we have previously collected from the body sensors and data logger which we are beginning to use to evolve different types, shapes and sizes of shell.

We captured the initial data over a week back in May which consisted of blood pressure, step counts, length of sleep, body temperature, exposure to air pollution and alcohol intake. These were gathered to provide a range of values we could use  to make the shells change the way they are evolved over time.

These different dimensions of data are used in our growth model as parameters that influence where and how much the shell grows and in which particular way. Each set of data values contribute to determining how much it grows, how smooth or jagged the surfaces are and whether or not there are other outgrowths. All together this results in a very personalised and specific shape that is unique to each data set.

We are planning to fabricate two further sets of shells, one with more extensive data sets informing the shell growth pattern, and the second experimenting with different data sources. More posts to come!

Our growth model as mentioned before is using variants of ‘parametric design’ via L-Systems and Growth Grammars. Here is a very quick explanation of what these do in principle:

Parametric Design
In a parametric design different numerical values – called parameters – are put into a set of related mathematical formulas or rules. These are able to generate variations of shapes or objects based on different input values. It is for example possible to create a parametric definition of a basic chair that  when combining the height and leg length of a person – can generate a chair with proportions that make it comfortable for that person to sit on. So a parametric design in this case captures the idea of a chair that can be made to fit different bodies – i.e. how many legs the chair has, the way the legs are connected to the seat area, the seat sitting area and the height position of the backrest.

These were invented by a man called Aristid Lindenmayer and are type of formal language that uses sequences of letters that define how something grows over several time periods. They can for example express how a tree expands from its trunk into branches and then into leaves or how a flower’s petals are arranged.

Growth Grammars
These are more complicated variations on L-Systems that have a richer set of features that can be used to describe growth models such as plant models. Growth Grammars are used in not just modelling the structure of plants i.e. how it is put together and its parts but also how it functions and its parts interact with each other.

1st generation of 3D printed Shells for Visualise

July 16, 2012 by · Comments Off on 1st generation of 3D printed Shells for Visualise 


After what has been a broad exploratory research and foraging phase into shell morphology and modelling systems for our Visualise project, I have just picked up the first round of 3d printed shells which we had done at the Digital Manufacturing Centre @  UCL. Thanks to Martin and Richard for their assistance with the 3d printing process!

What you see here is a twist on classic plain formula driven generative shells that you may have seen before. We are experimenting with ways of adapting shell formation of our 3d shells based on data capture we have started in previous experiments in lifestyle and health data monitoring. I have been looking into a variety of generative modelling systems anywhere from those originating in the CAD world to those for plant modelling in the bio and agricultural sciences.

Now I have settled on using a growth grammar platform called XL (it builds on ideas of l-systems but with much more flexibility and dynamic rewriting of growth rules). The XL grammar is interesting as its been developed for plant morphological and systemic modelling, allowing the generative growth rules to be switched based on time variant environmental factors throughout growth cycles.

This offers some exciting possibilities of mimicking real-world feedback patterns of environmental constraints on living entities such as plants or other living systems giving rise to different possible ‘expressions’ based on the ‘quality of life’ over time they experience in their environment (e.g. through droughts, wet seasons, sparse or rich nutrition, pollution factors, over-shading, etc.).

The shells you see here are a variations of an evolving shell model that can be infused with our previous and ongoing environmental and personal data capture data sets (e.g. with readings such as daily step-count, blood pressure, sleep pattern regularity) to determine the evolving form.

Look out for further variations on these shells shortly!

Shells for our Visualise commission

May 30, 2012 by · Comments Off on Shells for our Visualise commission 

shell math

Some math of seashells

In one of our current (and I feel, pretty exciting) commissioned projects that is part of the Visualise Programme, we are looking at new ways of making accessible interpretations and translations of information in a physical series of objects instead of another classic information visualization.

Various Shell Shapes

Although there are many beautiful data visualisation examples out there, the big challenge they often face is that they are very frequently inaccessible to larger audiences. We are really interested in finding ways of creating something very emotive and tactile, giving a more intuitive insightful access to understanding content such as personal health information which really matters to people. We want to overcome it often being hard to decipher with current approaches and tools without being a health expert.

Gobos & Domes

Some interesting ideas are swirling around and en route I could reconnect with some ‘old friends’ that I got to know while still an architecture student many years ago: I have been revisiting D’Arcy Thompson‘s On Growth and Form and his in depth study of shell formation as an inspiration of how we might produce our own little evolving artefacts out of re-interpreted data spaces.

We have just been in the process of carrying out our own personal health data-capture with some off-the shelf kit (e.g. pedometer, blood-pressure, temperature) as well as environmental sensing via a couple of custom build Arduino data-loggers; the results of which we are now using for  sketching out a variety of generative models for our new artefacts.

Watch this space for our first sketches of growing data!

data logger for Visualise Lifestreams

May 18, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

This week I have been putting together a little Arduino data logger for our current research collaboration with Philips in our Art & Tech commission project.

Arduino, openlog and TGS2620 gas sensor setup with GSR electrodes

We are exploring the translation of health and lifestyle data into new forms of tangible artefacts and for this we revisited mobile data-capture using Arduino boards to inform our early prototypes.

Alongside some Arduino boards we still had in the office I picked up a current crop of useful bits and pieces from Cool Components  and RS  (OpenLog SD logger + TGS2620 gas sensor) to make a quick, small and simple data-logger  for simple capture of volatile gas proximity and  basic galvanic skin response indicating anxiety levels.

TGS2620 gas sensor and openlog logger module

We need to capture long time periods of this sort of data on the move and thus were looking for a non-PC based data-logging set-up we could build ourselves. The Openlog board from Sparkfun is pretty convenient as it hooks up directly to the Arduino and can take micro-flash cards of large sizes so I got some 8GB cards for our logging exercises which will last for some good amount of data-capture time.

The Openlog board is tiny (literally a bit smaller than a 50 pence coin) and pretty straight forward to work with: It just hooks to the Arduino board in soft-serial mode. The galvanic skin response is better to be redone with an op-amp but a rudimentary approach will do for now for initial sketch-testing as we can always improve on the circuit later.

I will post some more feedback when I have played around with it some more.



OpenLog github site documentation and code

Arduino Gas detection Fritzing sketch


Citizen Science in action: NASA Space Apps Challenge

May 14, 2012 by · Comments Off on Citizen Science in action: NASA Space Apps Challenge 

Taking part in the 2012 NASA Space Apps Challenge

NASA SpaceApps Challenge 2012 Briefing

 Within the Public Goods Lab  here at Proboscis we have been exploring a number of themes we are tying together, one of which is a strong interest in the practice and production of ‘citizen science’. We like getting hands on and are always keen to learn from exitisting models and projects to understand the issues and possible modes and obstacles to production and  delivery and so it makes a lot of sense for us to participate in projects that we can learn from.

To this end in late April I spent a fun weekend with my friend James from Imaginals and other space-fanatics at ISIC, the International Space Innovation Centre in Harwell, Oxford which played host to an extraordinary and fun challenge:

We joined the Oxford group of the NASA Space Apps Challenge; a brilliant event that was hosted in 25 cities around the globe (e.g. San Francisco, Tokyo, Melbourne, Canberra, Jakarta, Exeter; Nairobi, Sao Paulo, Santo Domingo and McMurdo Station, Antarctica….) drawing a crowd of 2000+ participants interested in creating ‘Apps’ relating to NASA space science under a number of possible themes; e.g. Software, Open Hardware, Citizen Science and Data Visualization.

Inspiring Space Science

The NASA Space Apps challenge was conceived as part of a much larger  and very interesting ongoing US and global agenda in open government via the  Open Government Partnership. The US Open Government Initiative is translating directly into Open Government activities at NASA; a programme to generate more interest in, access to and popularise ideas around NASA’s space science programme and enhance public visibility.

StrangeDesk Citizen Science Ideas

Our impromptu team (primarily assembled on the workshop weekend itself) consisted  -Emal, Peter, James and myself – joined up because of our mutual interest in the theme of “Mobile Environment Capture”. We clubbed together with a hope of coming up with something that would relate it to citizen science and in particular exploring participatory models and ideas.

With lots of ideas being thrown around the table on the Saturday – for while we were  joined by from ESA scientists  who gave us some great insights – we decided to produce an idea that is looking to capture the excitement of engaging with space science from the ground by connecting citizen scientists through to the professional science community via our concept ‘StrangeDesk’. It’s our way to capture, share and aggregate odd, out of the ordinary and potentially  important environmental events and connect them through the social web with the wider world including the professional science community to use and elaborate upon.

redod something strange!

Strangedesk Start Page

Excitingly, in the weekend competition we must have hit some kind of nerve with the concept as we were lucky enough to win second prize in the local Oxford selections and are now moving into the second round with our idea.

Please check out our promo video we produced with the great help from Izzy Way at Imaginals for the second round of the competition on vimeo: StrangeDesk Promo

Support us by voting for it on the Talenthouse competion web site! and watch this space for any further news on this initiative!

You can also check out the twitter feed on the SpaceApps challlenge on twitter under #SpaceApps

Turntable Hack

March 19, 2012 by · Comments Off on Turntable Hack 

The other week Alice and Mandy started evolving ideas around the use of Zoetropes. Mandy produced some wonderful origami birds and Alice sketched out a series of cardboard mock-ups on a wooden ‘cheese board’ turning platter. These worked nicely for some very initial sketches but would not allow filming well and the rotation speed would vary.

Alice found some great turntable hacks for Zoetrope out on the web that got us thinking: Our Zoetrope experiments needed more control and flexibility in the electronic and mechanical design aspects so rotation speed could be controlled more precisely in future design iterations.

The hacked turntable ensemble











Ok: The Public Goods Lab (i.e. myself and the kit…) got involved in its technical capacity to support this. Alice brought in her old Technics turntable and I had a go at making our own motor driven Zoetrope as a hack from it: As it turned out with her turntable the real issue was that it it did not allow placing arbitrary size objects on the platter as the Technics model was designed as a slide-out chassis so we needed to do something with it before we could use it for Zoetrope testing.

I got onto disassembling the chassis getting the rotating platter out of it with its motor. The electronics were so tied to the chassis that I decided to just fix a stepper motor on the side of the platter base and made a little Arduino controller and breadboard motor driver circuit to go with it. The driver circuit is just suing a ULN2003A chip for a quick and simple test ( That chip is a multi-transistor package so I did not have to roll my own H-bridge).

I first used a unipolar stepper  [4 connections] but the circuit [I used this post from eLABZ blog ] was getting a bit hot with a floating voltage across the driver chip so I ended up reverting to a bi-polar stepper motor (still using the same circuit as above but dropping the floating voltage and this works just fine without the driver chip overheating. There are two poer supplies, one driving 5V for the Arduino board and another 12V supply for the stepper motor driver. Both were taken from an old hard disk power supply and wired into a breadboard. The circuit used has a tow small switches that let you change the stepper direction which is a nice convenience.

Arduino + Stepper driver electronics



More code hints for Arduino stepper control see the

introductory Arduino stepper control tutorials







The code can be tuned to change the speed of the stepper a little bit but this could alaso be extended with more control buttons in the circuit which we may do if we really need it.


A few months in..

February 7, 2012 by · Comments Off on A few months in.. 

Wow, how time flies:

Starting my Proboscis experience began only in October and already it seems like a distant past as so many things are happening at the same time here:

The Proboscis team, Giles, Alice, Hazem and Mandy have been really warmly welcoming me into their fold and I have been getting to know all the many friends and collaborators in the various projects we are working on. It is a great experience getting into a totally different scale (much smaller!) and horizontal way of working; a big change from my previous Higher Education job! I have come needing to juggle wearing many hats: design, research, technology development, etc. and I am really relishing it. It is really great when you can mix up the strategic and the practical and a few things in-between.

All this took some time getting used to but what is great is that a lot of excitement in this involvement is already showing: There is the new thinking about the technology stack that we are evolving for our Public Goods Lab work, the authoring and (successfully!) bidding for new commissioned work (e.g. Exlab) with other exciting work in the pipeline.  Then we have been rearranging our studio space to accommodate more fabrication space for our various projects. Now there is a corner for electronics prototyping with a kit bench that is slowly expanding for our circuit design and production.

We are slowly growing more capacity not just to fabricate electronics but in fact a wider range of components in house. At the moment we are adding ideas around 3d printing (rapid fabrication) and textiles to embedded electronics. We are also exploring motion capture technologies and the production of data landscapes using sound environments! This is very exciting also as we are re-interpreting ideas and processes previous Proboscis work to expand our exploration and play with notions around physical knowledge artefacts. We are looking to experiment in our various projects where we can take the ideas around them and what they could spark for different uses..

All the above is tied in with ongoing conversations with friends and colleagues I had made in my various previous places of work in an HE context (UCL & The Bartlett Faculty of the Environment & Central Saint Martins, The University of The Arts) where I was for example involved in projects around

  • Co-Presence & collaboration technologies with digital artefacts in virtual environment visualisations
  • Mapping, understanding factors and strategies producing higher quality urban/city spaces
  • Digital archives for architecture student works & new means of portfolio building, sharing and learning
  • Collaborative research knowledge spaces and archives
  • 3D printing in architecture design
  • Parametric modelling and Arduino  / Embedded electronics driven installations
  • Platforming of shared work spaces and collaboration environments

Being here as part of Proboscis is an exciting way for me to bring a lot of this experience of setting up and operating  Learning & Knowledge Spaces in the public realm. Watch out for our new works!

A catch up on Exlab

January 12, 2012 by · Comments Off on A catch up on Exlab 

We recently had a chance to meet everybody in the Exploratory Laboratory 2 project on the Jurassic Coast when we all got together at the main briefing event down in Bridport. We caught up with our partners, Julie Penfold  of pva MediaLab, Polly Gifford of Bridport Arts Centre,  Graham Waffen of Hive Beach Cafe and Caroline of the National Trust, and got to meet our science collaborators, fellow artists and hosting organisations.

The Exlab commissioned artists got together with the Exlab earth scientists, human geographers, production teams and hosts to have a round-robin set of presentations which all got us clued up about themes,  the teams and how they were linking with individual commissions.  It was exciting to make new connections outside and across our disciplines and see very different points of view and approaches in our various practices.

On the second day of our trip we kicked off our local research for our own Storyweir exploring the relationship between people and the geology.

We got a better grasp the lay of the physical geology and land around the Hive Beach cafe area at Burton Bradstock, explored stretches of the landscape and the beach between Burton Bradstock and Bridport and started with a ‘deep dive’ into the local archives discovering many nuggets of  local history and relations to this site that is rich in both the geological history of the mid Jurassic (with rich deposits of fossils in parts of the cliffs)  and the social history, myths, folklore, industry (rope and net making), farming and mackerel fishing.


Robotville Festival visit

December 12, 2011 by · Comments Off on Robotville Festival visit 

research robots on show at the Ldonon Science Museum at the Robotville Festival


I went to a really fun private view for the Robotville Festival at the London Science Museum the other week. It was robots-galore with a fresh sliced view on the current state of play in European robotics research. Why was it useful and fun? It was not a poster and film session – Oh no! IT was a full blown live set of live demonstrations with researchers presenting there current research prototypes in different challenges around human computer interaction in the filed of robotics.

It was particularly interesting as it gave the public a direct opportunity to not just see  the robot prototypes in action but also to strike up conversations with the researchers behind the work. It was a surprising, charming and sometimes even disconcerting window on what we will see in the near future around us, in the shop, in public venues, even at home for purposes anywhere from servicing, entertainment to commerce. All in all it was a fascinating snapshot  of the current state of play in robotics research in Europe.

Watch a video of the Robotville event at the Lodnon Science Museum