For the past two years I’ve been working on creating an interactive light installation that involves controlling a literal army of robots. The idea originated from illustrations I had done back in 2010 that depicted a character hovering in the dark over a field of swaying light bulbs.
While attending art school in Chicago I was prompted to design a robotic sculpture that was completely original. Drawing inspiration from these illustrations, I decided to create one of these robotic blades of grass, resembling a flower with an incandescent bulb at the top :
The product turned out something like this, twitchy and lacking the grace to you’d expect of a flower… but my first robot :
Once I successfully built one from a few servos, wire pulleys, and spring (however clumsy and difficult to control) I started thinking big. What if I really did make a ‘field’ of dancing lightbulbs? I took this idea back with me to my home town of Las Vegas and started looking into ways to mass produce my design.
Along the way I ran across some videos of an inverted delta robot on the web and was inspired to try and make one myself. After doing a little research, I scrapped my robotic flower type and decided to go with the delta model for my simulated field of lights. Even though delta robots don’t necessarily look like flowers, their mechanical simplicity and wide rage of motion was a huge selling point because my robot had huge issues with backlash and pulley slippage. Once the decision was made, it was up to me to figure out what went into making one do. Delta army commence!
Now that I was out of college, I was broke and didn’t so much as have a drill press at my disposal, so I invested in a demel and started literally hacking my delta models together from crap I had laying around my parent’s house (even if it was cardboard and electrical tape). Over the span of the year, I made MANY prototypes out of the materials I had available to me, which at the time were mainly used tupperware and plastic hangers. These prototypes still had their charm :
Last summer, some fateful chain of events brought me to Vegas’ monthly art walk called First Friday. Normally I can’t stand the teenage crowd of attendees, but an article in the newspaper had coaxed me to seek out the booth of a budding hackerspace known as SYN Shop. They didn’t quite have a location yet and were still operating out of someone’s garage (that someone being Mark)… but I was desperate to find new friends and collaborators to be inspired by and this seemed like the only place in Vegas I’d find others of my kind :
In the past year since that fateful day, the close knit group of makers at SYN Shop have become a regular part of my life. I’ve learned leaps and bounds more about coding, fabrication, hardware, and electronics than I ever thought I would, and it’s been delicious. I always knew deep down I was some odd flavor of engineer at heart, and here I am doing the things I use to draw and paint. – Growing in this way is the most fulfilling shift in life I’ve ever made.
With new resources at my disposal, I stopped Frankesteining my delta robots together and designed them in a cad program to be 3D printed. They even snap together using ball bearings as joints instead of expensive hobby parts :
In time I worked my design into what it is right now… a hearty little yellow beast that is sleek and free of excessive hardware!
With six identical working prototypes, it’s time to start thinking about boosting my numbers. Servos are expensive, and so is everything else when you’re talking about volumes in the thousands. I’m passionate about my cause, so with some thought and support from my collaborator, I decided to venture out into the world and do a Kickstarter; my first.
The Kickstarter isn’t for the light installation however; not directly. To fund the army of delta robots I want to make… I’m turning my design into a kit. That means, for every delta robot I sell, I’ll get some money to help my cause (and the warm fuzzy feeling that comes form knowing other people are helping me populate the world with little dancing yellow robots).
Launching a Kickstarter however is HARD. It’s a full time job that I am lucky enough to have help with. It isn’t possible to wear all the hats at once, so I am sharing them with my partner in crime and master engineer, Mark Koch… and my 24 hour life line and creative mastermind, Jeff Rosowski. Over the next few months they will be helping me prepare for the day I make the Kickstarter live, which is looking like it will be some time in January (2014). Join the mailing list if you haven’t so I can remind you about it (promise I won’t send any crap)!
I have a dedicated site set up with details on the installation, Light Play (my interactive delta army) which also has information on the kit I’m kickstarting, called ‘The Robot Army starter Kit’. You can check it out here to get the skinny : lightplay.zoness.com
For detailed coverage and updates about the project, I’ll be posting articles on this blog (robotic arts). So as we march head on into the holidays, check back and see how I’m doing. This is my first time doing a lot of this, so I’ll be talking about the experience in detail if anyone is interested in the emotional toll this is having on me.
If you like what I’m doing and want to see a room filled to the brim with dancing delta robots, then spread the word! The hardest part about preparing for this kickstarter so far is creating a buzz, so tell your best friend or mom about delta girl. It’ll make the world a better place. <3
Me stomping the word flat with deltas :