The Codecatron (working title, will change) is an interactive electronic sculpture based on minimal surface geometry. Its physical form is composed of many “cells” that link together to form the complete object. Half of the cells contain circuit boards, and each circuit board has a set of LEDs, a speaker, a microphone, and small processor. Each circuit board is connected to its neighbors, so they form a distributed network across the sculpture. The cells will behave as cellular-automata, with complex patterns emerging from simple rules. The electronics system can be programmed to behave in many different ways, but some basic interaction concepts will be outlined in this proposal.
There are several main goals of this project:
1) Creating a sculpture with interesting and complex interaction based on light and sound.
2) Facilitating a new “DIY electronics” center camp workshop during Apogaea, where participants construct an interactive circuit board and experience that electronics are accessible and fun to work with.
3) Demonstrating a “cell” based approach to building 3D interactive electronics installations, in preparation for a larger future installation.
Minimal surface geometry can be thought of as the type of shape that soap-films make. This particular shape is called a “Schoen's batwing surface cubelet,” which can be seen in the images submitted with the budget spreadsheet. It has four “windows” through it, and a shape reminiscent of a horn or a flower, depending on the viewpoint. It will be between 4 and 5 feet wide, and the windows will be large enough for people to easily look through or put their heads in. Participants will be able to play with how sound moves through the shape. Also, since each cell in the sculpture has its own speakers and LEDs, the cells can work together to roll sounds and colors around the sculpture.
The sculpture’s shape and size are intended to facilitate interaction by participants, either with each other or individually. A single user might peek their head into one of the windows, and experience color and sound swirling around them, or echoing across the sculpture in trippy ways. The participant might whistle a note or shout a word, exciting the cells to react. If multiple participants played with the sculpture together, two people might peek their heads into opposing windows, looking at each other through a tunnel. If they both sang a note together, they might see how the intensity of their voices varied across the tunnel, and how their sounds interact in the air.
The system will be designed for fluid interaction, behaving like a playful creature. The software of the sculpture will shift among different types of interaction depending on the behavior of participants. A key feature is that workshop participants will be able to program interactive elements that affect the entire sculpture, so the Codecatron’s final behavior will emerge from the combined contributions of the community.
The main electronics of the sculpture will be composed of circuit board “nodes,” each of which will contain LEDs, a speaker, microphone, and processor. These circuit boards will be designed and built by me (John English), building on the designs of SoundPuddle. The prospective schematics can be seen in submitted files. Each node can connect to the simpler circuit boards that will be built by participants at the DIY Electronics workshop during Apogaea. These smaller, participant-built circuit boards are “satellites,” to their node. These satellite boards will each contain a processor, LEDs, and a microphone (similar to last year’s DIY Electronics workshop board), and they can be programmed with a special word or sound by the workshop participant that builds them. Once the satellite board is attached to the sculpture, it will expand the network of boards in the system, allowing for more pixels of light and a fuller visual aesthetic. If a participant goes up to their satellite board and makes makes the “magic sound,” a special mode of interaction will be triggered, which will propagate out across the rest of the cells.
The goal of including the participant-made satellite boards in the design proposal of the sculpture is to continue the success of the DIY electronics workshop from last year, while sharing the workshop products with the rest of Apogaea. On the first several nights of the festival, the sculpture will be interactive and alive, but it will only feature the “node” cells. After the workshop (mid-way through the festival), the sculpture will have an added layer of color and interaction, and many participants will have a more personal connection to the piece. This transformation of the installation during the festival represents an emergence of new elements through community effort and interaction. At the end of the festival, participants will be able to reclaim their satellite boards, if they would like to take them home.
To make cells, we will laser cut plastic panels, then fold them into firm structures. The sculpture will be pre-assembled into either two or four pieces (the minimal surface design lends itself well to partitioning), and those halves or quarters will be reconnected on site. The wiring between the circuit boards will be contained within the cells, and generally not visible from the outside. There will be a total of 128 nodes and 128 satellites, and thus 256 cells in the sculpture. The sizes of 256 and 128 are important for the behavior of the cells in the distributed network (being equal to 2^7 and 2^8). Also, the volume pricing has a major price-break at quantity 100 for nearly all of the electronics components in the system. Last year’s DIY Electronics workshop had 100 kits, and we had to turn away many people after all of them were built by people who arrived in the first hour.
The sculpture will be placed under a shade structure, for protection from rain or hail. However, the cells will be water-resistant so they can handle splashes or sideways rain. The circuit boards themselves will have reverse-polarity and short circuit protection elements, since workshop participants may be connecting their satellite boards to the network, and the electronics must be tolerant of improper connections.
The sculpture will produce sound, but the volume of the installation will be low. It can be thought of as a mid-range boom-box (<200 watts), not at all on the level of a sound-camp. The installation will be appropriate for being placed near SoundPuddle, which requires a quiet location.
The entire piece will be solar powered. The current SoundPuddle power system is built into a small trailer, and in the interest of not having two separate systems, the two installations would both use the trailer. This necessitates that the piece be placed within ~200 feet of SoundPuddle, but further than ~50 feet such that participant noises from the two installations don’t interfere with each other. The system will need an additional ~250 watts of solar panels, and 2-4 kWh of additional battery capacity on top of the existing SoundPuddle power infrastructure.
A primary goal of this project is to have short and simple set-up and take-down at Apogaea, since our team will also be bringing SoundPuddle. This goal will be achieved by pre-assembling the bulk of the sculpture before arriving on-site, and by relying on (and expanding) the existing power infrastructure of SoundPuddle.
Festival placement and space:
The sculpture is relatively small (~5x5x5 feet), but does need open space surrounding it for participants to interact and move around. It will also have a small shade structure above it, presumably less than 12x12 feet in area. It will need to be in a quiet location, so that participants can interact with sound. It will need to be within ~200 feet of SoundPuddle so that it can be connected to the trailer power, but not closer than ~50 feet, so that the two installations are acoustically separated. Both of these installations will be part of the “Electron Village” theme camp, and should ideally be placed in the same area as SoundPuddle in 2013.
The sculpture can be broken into two or four pieces for easier transportation. It will travel to Apogaea (along with its shade structure and solar power hardware) along with SoundPuddle.
The main sculpture, its electronics, and firmware will be developed by a core team of three people. However, the workshop will require one to two dozen volunteers. We had a very good experience with volunteer training for last year’s DIY Electronics workshop, and intend to follow a similar plan. Beginning in April, we will do weekend workshops on alternating Saturdays and Sundays at the Boulder Hackerspace. We’ll announce calls for volunteers at the Apogaea Art Fair, and on the facebook page, and also reach out to the volunteers from last year’s workshop. Volunteers do not need previous experience with electronics - they only need to go through the workshop themselves to understand the steps needed to build the board.
The design phase of the electronics and CAD modeling of the physical sculpture have already begun. This schedule is intended to be weighted heavily towards the beginning of the project time-line, so that there is as much software development time as possible. The goal is to assemble the complete schedule by March 1st, so that the rest of the available calendar time can be put into software development and testing. Preparation for the workshop will ramp up in April and May with volunteer trainings.
Circuit board design and bill of materials finalization: December 2013
Prototype PCB and BOM order: Jan 15th
Prototype testing and firmware development: Jan 22nd - Feb 12th
Final changes to PCB design: Feb 13th - Feb 18th
Volume PCB and BOM order: Feb 19th
PCB assembly and testing: Feb 21st - Feb 28th
Firmware development: Mar 1st - Apogaea
CAD design of cells and overall structure: December 2013
Boundary frame prototype welding: Dec 23rd - Dec 30th
Paper model laser cutting and construction: Jan 1st - Jan 8th
CAD revisions, structural simulation: Jan 8th - Jan 16th
Prototype cell laser cutting: Jan 17th
Prototype cell assembly and testing: Jan 18th - Jan 31st
CAD revisions, structural simulation: Feb 1st - Feb 19th
Volume cell laser cutting: Feb 19th
Initial sculpture assembly: Feb 23rd - Feb 30
Electronics integration and testing: Mar 1st - Apogaea
Workshop Preparation: *see above for workshop electronics schedule
Electronics kit bagging: Mar 1st - Mar 22nd
Volunteer trainings: April - May (approximately 2 Saturdays and 2 Sundays)
Our tree won’t drop its leaves! The project will not be engineered in such a way as to allow MOOP. All components will be secured. Our periodic check-ins of the audio and batteries will include mandatory MOOPing duties for any trash left onsite by event participants. The most delicate part of the design is the poem-blooms, but we’re securing those with extra strong epoxy and we’ll have more onsite to re-secure or replace missing blooms. The dresser full of poetry does pose the most intense MOOP risk, and we will have signage urging participants to only take poem slips if they intend to keep them with a cautionary note about MOOP.
I am a professional electrical engineer with a focus on embedded electronics and real-time control systems. For the past four years I’ve been a principal engineer and co-founder of Boulder Engineering Studio, a small mechanical and electrical engineering firm. No other BES staff will be involved in the project (as this is not a company project in any way), but as an owner of the company I have considerable resources at my disposal for personal endeavors such as this. These include a commercial circuits lab, a machine shop, a warehouse, and software development tools. The technology developed to control the sculpture is from the same elements and methods as SoundPuddle, as well as my professional work. My career background and resources are very well suited to the success of the electronic and mechanical elements of this project.
Kevin is an aerospace engineer whose previous projects include the Viking Wheel and SoundPuddle at Apogaea, and the Space Shuttle at NASA. Kevin has experience with mechanical design and assembly in harsh environments, and will be involved with the creation and assembly of the physical structure, and assembly and testing of the circuit boards.
Ryan is a content-centric mesh-network researcher at CSU, and will be involved in the software development for the cells, as well as physical testing and assembly. He’s a two-year veteran of the SoundPuddle project, and member of the Boulder Hackerspace. He was also a major volunteer for last year’s DIY Electronics workshop, both in preparing kits and documentation prior to Apogaea, and teaching participants during the event.
Associated SoundPuddle team veterans:
The electrical system is entirely DC and powered by 24 volt solar panels and lead-acid batteries. The control of the power system is handled by a commercial solar charge controller, which protects from reverse polarity and short circuits. The batteries will be connected through a circuit breaker and thermal fuse. All the LEDs are powered at 5 volts. The low voltage DC nature of this system poses very little danger to humans. The wiring could be cut with conductive scissors and the system will still be safe.
All wiring will be shielded, soldered, and covered with heat shrink to mitigate risks of short circuits from spills, drips, or floods. The batteries and main electronics assembly will be located in the waterproof SoundPuddle trailer, making the power system capable of withstanding extreme weather. The installation will be prepared for heavy rain. The power cable between the SoundPuddle trailer and the sculpture will be buried underground, to prevent any tripping hazards. This will also be a low-voltage DC cable, which does not pose danger to participants.
The sculpture itself will not be excessively heavy, at less than 80 lbs. It will have a metal edge to keep the structure rigid, but the points of the sculpture will be rounded off to make safer edges.
Description of purchase
Prototype PCB stencil
Node PCB Cost
Satellite PCB cost
Node PCB stencil
Satellite PCB stencil
100 Watt Solar Panels
1kWh lead-acid battery
Node PCB components
Satellite PCB components
Materials and expenses NOT included (to be sourced from re-used material, or covered personally
Satellite PCB components
Cell-to-cell attachment hardware
Solder, flux, and other consumables
Paper, bags, labels (for workshop)
Summary and Conclusion
Grand Total Materials Cost
Minimum Request Amount (50%)
Maximum Requested Amount (75%)
remaining budget via indiegogo fund-raising, or covered personally
$3,299.53 - $6,599.07
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Total Project Cost
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Requested Apogaea grant amount
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Grant amount as % of total project cost
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Grant amount as % of total grant budget
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Grant amount as % of this round's budget
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Amount of each ticket given to grant
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Value per grant dollar
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