Animatronics Update

A look inside the animatronic morphoids.

I’ve been hard at work working on the animatronics project.  HARD at work.  It is a huge challenge, but slowly but surely, I am making some progress.  I am having to rework my ideas and rework my solutions as I go, as sometimes what I think will work best does not work hardly at all.  I am learning a lot and am getting some serious experience in problem solving, especially as it relates to electronics, mechanics and building things.

Making things in electronics takes five times as long as any other process.  There is no doing things halfway, or fudging your skills.  Unlike many other making techniques, electronics either works or it doesn’t.  Unlike, say, sewing, where your skills will develop as you go, but if you want to make something specific as a beginner, you will manage to make something as a beginner.  Not perfectly, but if you had intended to make a shirt, you would have a shirt.  With electronics, you have to get things absolutely right.  For instance, if I’m intending to make a Morphoid move, I have to make a Morphoid move, or it’s just a collection of fabric, stuffing, and electronic parts.

I think that working with soft things (fabric sculpture, versus, say, something made of wood) presents a unique set of obstacles.  It is tough to get any kind of traction on things- the stuffing has too much give.  Sometimes, although it is moving on the inside, it is tough for the moving parts to be obvious on the outside.  This is interesting to me, as everything I’m working on with this comes out much more subtle than I intend, which is actually kind of interesting and strangely appropriate.  I have a couple of things that I almost can’t tell if they are on and working right away.

Anyway, I’m in the process of tweaking, or making version 2 for the Morphoids I’m animating…. hopefully there might be some video soon(ish).

The photo is of the insides of one of the Radiolaria.  I used plaster to cover a child’s ball to make a hollow form for the servos to move a weight around in, which gives it just a twitch of movement.  You can see the battery packs, circuit board that I soldered and the Arduino on the top, and the whole contraption will soon be going inside a ‘Radio’.

Animatronics Project- Nephropoleon

Here is the first semi-successful attempt at animating one of the Morphoids – Nephropoleon.

Nephropoleon panel

And a little about Nephropoleon.  As you can see, the awkwardness is appropriate, but I am still debating whether or not I will attempt to make the movement more efficient.  It could be more efficient, but right now, I’m not totally sure it’s worth the effort.  The nice thing about working with Nephropoleon (and Arduino, actually), is that I have more than one, so could make a second version without destroying this one.  Arduinos are infinitely re-programmable, so I can tweak as much as I need, and re-use the ones I no longer need for another morphoid, or another project.

This particular part of the project has taken me some considerable effort, even though it may not look like it.  I needed to figure out how to build a sufficient structure to hold the mechanical parts so that they would work the best they can.  I had to figure out how to program the Arduino to control the servos to move as they should, in the range and timing that they should, and how to get it to pause the program when there is not enough light- as in, when someone approaches the morphoid.  (This is not evident in the video, but it’s an important part of the project.)  Also, how to deal with seemingly simple things, such as how to turn the power on and battery changes.  It is important that there’s not an obvious opening on the outside, so I’ve actually sewn the battery packs right inside, and needed to come up with a way to have access to the power switch (and be able to find it!) without it being really obvious from the outside.  Also, a big challenge with these is the fact that they’re stuffed- the stuffing interferes with the mechanics on the inside- the resistance is enough to overpower the servos.  I had to rig up a few different ‘guards’ to keep stuffing away from places it might cause problems. I also went through a couple of days of frustration when I kept having a problem where one of the servos wouldn’t work- trying everything, replacing hardware, reprogramming, redoing the circuit, etc.  All the components seemed good, and nothing helped. I only got past it when I started over from scratch, although I still have no idea what the problem was, so hopefully it doesn’t return.

I am learning a lot.

Animatronic Morphoids!

IMG_8554

I’ve been awarded a production grant from the Alberta Foundation of the Arts, to develop some of the Morphoids into ‘living’ creatures over the next few months.  To do this, I am using Arduinos, electronic circuitry, servo motors, sensors, and developing the mechanics for the inside of the Morphoids to make them move and interact with their environment.  As you can imagine, this is a little complicated, so I’ve been starting with a lot of reading, and a few experiments.

IMG_8550

I’ve been playing with the Arduino, and servos, and using sensors to control them.  It’s quite the learning curve (but I can handle it).  The mechanical part is going to be a challenge too, especially since the Morphoids are soft.  I ran into an unexpected roadblock when I was trying this stuff before, in that the stuffing provided enough resistance inside to interfere with the motor. I will need to be aware of that, and figure out ways to get around it.  I’m up for the challenge.

IMG_8552

This is a project I’ve wanted to do for some time, but haven’t been able to find the time or money for materials, so the grant is much appreciated, especially in that sense.  The other nice thing about this project is that I see these skills being useful in future work- it’s a great time to focus on this and expand my skills.

You might remember this animatronic Morphoid from the opening of The New Alberta Contemporaries.

And this shows the internal circuitry.

I’ll be posting updates as I go, but I don’t know how interesting it will be until I’ve got something more concrete to show.  The goal is 3-5 animatronic Morphoids by the end of July. Stay tuned.

IMR at VAAA!

Akkermans evite_final

The Institute of Morphoid Research is holding an exhibition at Visual Arts Alberta in Edmonton, from December 5th, 2013 – January 25th, 2014.

The opening is this Thursday, December 5th, 7:00 – 9:30. If you’re in the neighborhood, I’d love to see you!

More Informational Panels

Recently, I’ve been developing more informational panels.  I now have quite a few- enough for any arrangement I might want for an exhibition, although I do want to develop more.  Next up? Informational panels as games. (But that involves a little more electronics.)

Morphoid Alive!

A short video of my success today… a physically animated Morphoid!

It has two separate circuits in it, one for the sound, and one for the vibration.  Both are affected by their relationship to light.  The only thing I don’t like is the rattle, but for a first go, I’m pretty happy with it. (Now, I need to learn to solder… right now it’s all taped together on the inside!  Temporary is okay for a prototype, but if I’m going to make more, I gotta learn to solder…!)

Yahoo!

“Anatomy” drawings

"Anatomy" Drawing - Morphoid Fat Layer

"Anatomy" Drawing- Morphoid leg

I’ve been trying to use my time more wisely lately, using the odd bits of downtown I get, and my time on the C-train. This is helping to rejuvenate my practice, which has been on the back-burner for a little bit, with this new job.  The job is fairly flexible, although it is sometimes hard for me to predict when I will be busy and when I may have some slower time.  Every week is different, depending on what is going on. For example, this last week was a little slower, but I know that the next couple could very well be a little crazy.

Anyway, I’ve been using my time, and using my sketchbook.  Now that I’m working, I have a little money to order some basic supplies, which was the other reason why my practice was put on hold a little. I’m working on a performance this summer, a dissection, for which I need tools, and Morphoid body parts.  So, I’ve been making a few things, thinking about a lot of things, and drawing.  Here’s a few of the sketches, Mophoid parts.  I am purposely leaving them a little cryptic.

"Anatomy" Drawing - Morphoid Liver

"Anatomy" Drawing - Morphoid Fat Layer

"Anatomy" Drawing - Morphoid Stomache (and Contents)

I’m still here!

I apologize that I haven’t been as active on this blog lately, but I have a good excuse!  I have a new job!  I’m working for a local arts group, and it has been quite the learning curve!  It is a really good job for me, and seems like a great fit, but because it’s new, it’s taking me some time and energy to settle into the role. So that’s where most of my energy has been going lately.

I’m working on finding a better sense of balance.  Because the new job is working between home, the office and other places for meetings, etc, I am finding it a bit of a challenge to separate work from studio time from down time.  As a result, my studio practice has been temporarily (*I swear!*) on the back burner (which is a little strange for me).  I will pick it up again soon, but it did happen to happen at a natural time to take a bit of a break, so I don’t feel guilty about it.

And, as timing would have it, I have a show up right now. I’ve probably mentioned it before- it’s called Meet The Morphoids, in the Untitled Art Society’s +15 window in the EPCOR Centre.  The opening was last night.  It wasn’t my usual crowd that went, but I did run into some people I haven’t seen in quite a while, and it was great to talk with them, and to go have a beer.  It was a nice treat.

Anyway, let me see if I have some images of the show on this computer. This is in no way an excuse for you not to go see it. What do you think?