Adventures in Smartsurfaces

Just another weblog

Solar Panels Schmolar Panels… December 15, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachelboswell @ 12:28 pm

Now this is really using solar power to its full potential:

Harnessing The Power Of The Sun – Watch more Funny Videos

I really suck at this internet stuff, it took me 15 minutes just to figure out how to embed this link. Erg!

Anyway, I thought this was interesting because throughout this entire class we have been talking about photovoltaics and how they are inefficient but basically the only option at this point. This solar concentrator sort of reminded me of our week 3 mini-project, but ours was of course not at this scale.
Could you imagine if you were accidentally pushed into its line of fire? AHH!


the end? December 12, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachelboswell @ 8:05 pm

I just sent an email to my team today, which read:

Hey team,

I just wanted to say that I sincerely enjoyed working with each and every one of you during this class, and in a lot of ways I’m sad it’s over (though I did enjoy sleeping last night). I sort of wish that we hadn’t ended on the note we did yesterday, which I felt was sort of anti-climactic considering the amount of work that went into our project. I can only hope that our professors ‘get it’. I don’t know about you guys, but I thought everything would come to a close in a much more profound way, but I think we were all too tired to be profound yesterday 😛 What I suggest is that we get together once more, time permitting, just for fun this time. Bar night with shirly temples? Potluck or drinks and snacks at my house? I think our group dynamic fell apart a bit this week, and I hope we can all breathe a sigh of relief that it is over and shake hands for a job well done.

Any thoughts? I was thinking maybe monday or tuesday night if everyone is free?

again, thanks for a great semester 🙂


I think this really sums up how I feel about this class, which did and did not come to a close for me yesterday. I never thought about this class as a means to an end product, in which case I might have been sorely disappointed. Simon did not work, but he made me work, hard. I only wish our critique had been more about us than it was about him.

My favorite memories of this project are of figuring out angles with Marc and Lindsey, stripping wires and watching movies with Damien, drilling holes, etc. Basically all the menial tasks that Marc suggested were perhaps not the best ways to use our brains. These are my favorite memories not because of what I was doing necessarily, but because of the people that were around me.

I have been struggling as of late with what exactly I want to do, what my mind and body enjoy doing, what challenges me in a good way, and what will make me happy. I still don’t know the answers to all those questions, but I do know that I have a need to be surrounded by people that are doing something, thinking something and enjoying it. I feed off of the energy of others, so much so that I find it difficult to get anything done, or even move, if I’m not working on something with someone else. I need team projects, I like them, team dynamics and all, because I feel part of something bigger and better than what I can do alone.

I’m going to say that this is a basic human need. We are social beings, and perhaps I feel it more than others because I have thought about what happiness is and how I can get there extensively. In John Thakara’s book In the Bubble, he describes an ideal society “in which well-being is based on less stuff and more people”. This class and this book, among others, have drastically changed the way I think about myself as an artist and as a designer.

I thought I wanted to be a cut-and-dry industrial designer. I thought that would get me somewhere, so to speak. I was going to make furniture and useful things. But things isn’t where it’s at for me anymore. I want to make relationships, connections and happiness. This is not to say that I am throwing art and design out the window. On the contrary, I am going to use those things to try to create environments, products and services that bring people closer together, connect them to their environments, and synch the natural rhythms of the world with our currently disconnected and isolated conception of society.

Simon was not the end, he was a means to an end, an end that is far, far off in the distance. I think it was said at some point yesterday that perhaps time was wasted on Simon when we could have been making something much more important that, for example, started someone’s heart. I totally disagree with the notion that happiness is a trivial goal. I think it is possibly one of the most important issues that we as humans face at this point in time. If you restart the heart of a miserable bastard, he will still be a miserable bastard.

Unhappiness springs from isolation, desperation, disconnection, and a myriad of other factors. If one feels connected, supported and necessary, even if is a connection with the natural world rather than with people, the likelihood that that person will be happy is greater. Give a lonely person lots of super-sweet technology and the most exquisite furniture on earth and he will still be lonely. We can never have everything unless we have each other.

I of course have much more to say about Simon and the last stages of construction and installation, but I wanted to get all of this out there while it was on my mind. SmartSurfaces was a great class, and I hope there are more like it at Michigan in the future. Thanks to our professors for their extra time and effort, I know it  can only get better from here 🙂


Building the Frame! November 30, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachelboswell @ 12:02 am

Hours of measuring angles, cutting, and re-cutting:

Setting up welds (Lots of Welds!):


Current tasks: circuit board cutting, wire stripping, soldering, and, well, everything else.

12 days left!


Recent Developments November 5, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachelboswell @ 10:18 pm

The past couple weeks have brought us a looong way. Our emotionally responding robot now has a specific form, and its functions and abilities are becoming better defined.


We took cues from simple forms that still have character, such as Munny Dunny dolls, and tried to create silhouette that was unobtrusive and kind, like a penguin.

Jackass Penguinauster_august10_1024Penguins_huddling

Penguins also huddle for warmth, creating a naturally smart surface. This went along with one of our preliminary ideas that involved developing individually functional emotional mechanisms that could ‘herd’ into larger, also fully functional surfaces when needed.

As it turns out, penguins are already a popular source of inspiration for technology with a friendly feel.crane-adorable

Crowdsurfing was another ‘smart surface’ I looked at for inspiration. Another idea we threw around during initial brainstorming had to do with finger or arm-like devices that would caress and embrace users, crowdsurfing does essentially the same thing to the surfer.



Collapsable devices were also a source for inspiration because we were looking at ways to make an interactive form that could transform in more of a surface during periods of inactivity. Fireplace bellows and old camera lenses are some examples.


After lots of form evaluation and more discussion on the ‘why’ of our project and which ends were most important to cover for the final prototype, we created full size model out of foam, and a half size one out of plywood and mocked up some gear forms to start to visualize how this thing would move. Here is our plywood model so far:


We used piano hinges to hold everything together. No we have something to practice movement with, and we can further refine the form and proportions through SolidWorks.


Here it is with it’s fin, to further add to it’s character.


What follows is a refinement of our final budget, technical drawings and specifics for the form, building a frame with which to test the strength of motors and hinges, and most of all, troubleshooting! Only 36 days for all that AND fabrication of the final model and gallery installation. Anyone getting nervous?


Sustainability for pleasure? October 25, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachelboswell @ 7:39 pm

Yes, sustainability for PLEASURE. Sustainability without sacrifice, that is what our team has been working to develop. We want our final project to make people feel good, to catalyze relationships between people and objects, and to encourage emotional attachments, especially positive ones.

Here are some images I came across that describe the kind of relationship between humand technology that we are trying to achieve:






So hopefully that gives you all an idea of what we are after. Tonight we are meeting to do a modeling brainstorming session to start to visualize our 2D ideas. More on that later, but I think we are off to a fantastic start.


Some links and pictures… October 22, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachelboswell @ 11:26 am

I thought I’d post some of the things I came across while doing research for our final project.

We were talking about trying to get away from the solar panel because it is a rigid, and perhaps limiting thing. I began researching photovoltaic fabrics, films, mini-panels and other things that we could use without them having too much influence over the form of our final product. Solar fabrics are unfortunately not available for purchase yet, as far as I know, but the principles could be applied using films or smaller solar cells. The fabric idea is very interesting to me because applications for the technology have not been explored much beyond ties, tents, and umbrellas, though the tent I have linked above is pretty interesting. It gathers energy throughout the day and provides these charging pocket-like things to charge your camera, phone, etc. At night, you can find your tent by sending it an SMS to make it glow. Pretty neat, but maybe not exactly where we’ve been going with this project. Another picture above is of a sculpture-like solar energy collector that uses flexible photovoltaic materials. Maybe this is closer to our ideal?
I also started looking at the history of heliotropism, which is where I came across the drawing above by Kircher. He imagined a clock controlled by the natural heliotropism of a sunflower. I found a blog that talks about heliotropism in art, which I found really interesting: In many classical paintings, the subject looks toward the sun, and in La Metamorphose de Clytie by Jean-Francois de Troy, the story of Clytie’s obsession with the sun god Apollo takes heliotropism to an extreme. She finds that Apollo is with someone else, so Clytie tells the girl’s father, who in turn kills his daughter and buries her out of Apollo’s sight. Although Apollo detests Clytie after this, she continues to follow his every move across the sky. Creepy!
I also found out, perhaps late in the game, that there is a flower called a heliotrope. Go figure, I wonder what is does?

And back to our last project…

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachelboswell @ 10:51 am

Tada! Here is our finished model in action. Well, in as much action as a photo allows, sorry I don’t have video.


We constructed the wall in such a way as to allow all of our strings and pulling mechanisms to move freely. The base is an acrylic sheet drilled with about a million holes for fishing line that was strung through each panel on the facade. Six servos pulled the strings to peel the finger panels away from the building facade. Servos are not terribly strong, however, so we had to pick and choose an assortment of panel units to move while others remained stationary.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about this model is the fact that the model does not actually represent the way we envisioned that our project would perform in ‘real life’. Our model was fiction, so to speak, which played along nicely with last week’s theme of mashing together science fact and science fiction into one practice. This concept, a sort of brainchild of Julian Bleecker, our guest speaker and author of an essay titled ‘Design Fiction’, allows one to imagine stories of possible ‘near futures’ and the technology that might be used in them, or perhaps to imagine a story to go along with a proposed product design so as to test its viability in context. In ‘real life’ we envisioned a facade absent of mechanical components such as servos. Instead, we saw the  movement of the panels as natural, organic, and completely dependent on the sun and the amount of light by using a material that bended or curved in response to light or heat conditions. We looked into bi-metals and other materials that could be layered in such a way to produce our desired effect.

In addition to our constructed model, we brainstormed other ways in which the basic concept could be applied.

blindsIn the example above, the panels are attached to the facade at both ends and bend only in the middle. The effect is similar to when your neighbor peeks through the blinds to see what you are up to. When an entire facade is covered in this way, the building takes on an ethereal character as some areas are opaque and fade into transparency. We imagined the movement of the slats to be dependent on the sun of course, so as to employ heliotropism, but there is an existing building that uses a similar mechanical device by architects Herzog and De Meuron:



We also thought about creating an undulating surface with panels. I had some difficulty using the Digital Project software and the power copy function, so I hope you can get the idea from these images:



With gaps in between the rows of panels and the entire facade covered, the aesthetic affect would be both interesting and beautiful. Another idea would be to combine the curving motion of the Herzog and De Meuron building with this motif so that the panels would move in and out and angle to direct sunlight in a particular way.

All in all, a successful project, and it really got us thinking about the ‘why’. We have already been applying our experience from this project to our final project, about which I will blog soon. I promise!


I’m going to go a little out of order… October 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachelboswell @ 4:44 am

And say that our final group seems to be working really well together. We have lain the foundation for a really interesting project I think, and have established a method of working that I think will get us far.

I promise I will update on the last project soon. I just wanted to put this out there 😀


Trial, Error, and Constant Reworking October 15, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachelboswell @ 4:13 pm

Our final short-term project is well underway, but not without struggles! Good struggles, however, because I think we are really getting to the root of our problem. We have constantly been asking ‘why’, and I think this is reflected in our final idea. We have managed to consider almost every aspect of the design (we hope), and I believe the result will be elegant and functionally appropriate.

Last week we worked on assembling a motor shield for our Arduino in order to protect it when burdened with large loads, such as a stepper motor. We had a really hard time getting the code and the circuit set up for the motor, but after a lengthy battle we figured out that ONE WIRE was in the hole next to the one it needed to be in. ARG! I find myself saying arg a lot in this class, and it always seems to be the simple things that put us behind or out of our wits.

Here we are tweaking the code and the circuit to no avail:

Is it the arduino? Is the code wrong? WHAT IS IT!?


Well, we figured it out in the end. Here is our working motor (not the step motor):

Soldering was also a challenge, also partly due to silly mistakes. We are a tired team! It has been difficult to arrange meetings as well because of exams, weddings, Chicago trips, and what-have-you. We did make a lot of headway the past few days, however, and now that the work has been delegated and our concept is strong we can plow ahead and finish with plenty of time (that’s the idea at least :P).

Last night we really pushed forward with our construction plan and smoothed out a lot of the wrinkles in our concept.


We put together a quick mock-up of our building scheme in order to see it in action.

From there, we discussed how the panels would move and how exactly we wanted to manipulate the sunlight.

In the discussion that followed, we went through many options, all of which seemed viable. What was most difficult was nailing down our purpose. Why exactly were we making this thing? What are we trying to do? We narrowed it down to some key goals, with maintaining consistent daylighting throughout the day as one of the most important.


After we decided on a goal, we began playing with some of the prototypes that we already had. Now that we had a direction, figuring out how the panels should move was more straightforward. In the end, we decided that the panels should provide shade when the sun is at its peak and natural light levels are the highest, and they should open up  to let in a maximum amount of light when light levels are low. In between both extremes, the panels would curl in to allow for smooth transitioning and even light levels throughout the day.



Laying out how the panels should fit on a structure was our next task. We considered having panels that covered the entire facade, but decided to compartmentalize the concept by floors and bays for a more surface-like effect. When light levels change, each unit will respond differently, creating an ocean of light-responsive fingers. The system could also be overridden to customize the facade.


After all of that decision-making work, we began planning how our prototype would be constructed. And for those details, you will have to wait for next time 😉


Sweet Parking Lot… October 12, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — rachelboswell @ 4:08 am

This was one of my favorite concepts from the veg.itecture blog I posted earlier. The solar ‘trees’ in this parking lot are covered with solar panels on the top and follow the movement of the sun in order to maximize the amount of energy the can harness. They provide shade for the parked cars as well as power for electric vehicles, which can plug into the trunks of charged trees. I think it is a clever and elegant concept, and a good way to greenify parking lots and the roofs of parking structures.