Category: Electronics

Building up again?

Mouth House_Akkermans

Here are some photos of things I’ve been playing with in the studio, stuff I’ve been making.  I’m not really sure what it is yet.

Merry Go round_Akkermans

– Merry Go Round (Please excuse the bad photo.)

Windmill in progress_Akkermans

– Windmill (in progress- will move hopefully, as I’m interested in making it kinetic.)

Barn_Akkermans

And this barn I’ve built….

Barn2_Akkermans

… which I’ve been playing with projecting inside of, with a pico projector.

Since starting my MFA here at Waterloo, I’ve blown everything up, and am currently in the process of building things up again.   I’m not sure how things will come together, but that is the point of doing my MFA, to figure that out and hopefully come up with an interesting body of work.  These are just the first few steps in that direction (hopefully).  I think that the “trying to capture a real moment” that I’ve been doing as well might end up colliding with these, but at this point, I have no idea how.  We’ll see.  🙂

Artist: Tom Haney

I saw this artist’s work at the Toronto Art Fair, but have rediscovered it more recently. I love the intricacy of these, as well as the way he uses simple mechanics to make them move and give them a bit of magic and personality.

See more at Tomhaney.com

Tom’s blog is also particularly great- shows a lot of in progress shots so that you can see how he works.

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.

New Work: Inner Theatre

Inner Theatre

Inner Theatre (2014). MDF, polymer clay, plexiglass, paint, music box and custom electronics.  17” x 13” x 7”.  

This work is part of Melancholia, the new series I am working on.  Inner Theatre uses a music box and custom electronics to recreate a feeling which I associate with my experience with depression.  The hand with spiral motif symbolizes a personal journey.

Jennifer Akkermans_Inner Theatre_2

Inner Theatre

 

Inner Theatre, A mechanical sculpture by Jennifer Akkermans. from Jennifer Akkermans on Vimeo.

Nitinol

Ok, maybe it’s an experimentation and research phase (as it applies to material and technique).

This is Nitinol. Nitinol is a shape memory alloy, which reacts to heat. Let’s start at the beginning.

It works like magic.

Well, no, not really.

(And this one is trying to be dramatic…)

So…. how might this be useful?

See the possibilities?

This is interesting, although probably not very relevant to what I’m doing…

Phases of Practice

I seem to be going into an experimentation phase.

Like a lot of artists, I go through phases with my work.   Productive phases (grooves), where everything seems to roll along smoothly, almost pulling me with it, unproductive phases (ruts, like the one I’m finally seeming to get out of), where I’m stalling, and everything in between.  Experimentation phases, where I’m trying a lot of things, but not actually making any finished work, and research phases, where all I seem to do is read and write about ideas and what’s going on in my head.

As you may know, I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting out of a rut in the last few months.  Now, it feels like I’m at least doing stuff, trying things out, ordering a couple different kinds of supplies to play with (such as Arduinos), and at least moving.  I haven’t been able to make any more “finished work” in a while, but that’s natural, I guess.  Now that I’m playing with things again, that will come.

So what have I been doing?  Lots of experiments with the Arduino Uno I bought. Making things blink, playing with servo motors, and making slow progress.  I am no where near being able to do what I want to do with it, but you’ve gotta start with the basics, and then work from there.  I’ve shared a lot of my research in the last few weeks, but not much of the progress I’m making.

Here’s a video of something I’ve been playing with….

You can see the servo in the box in the middle there, and and the blue thing (plugged in with the USB) is my Arduino. It draws it’s power from the computer for now (I need to get it set up with battery power), but the signals that control the servo are coming from the Arduino. You can also see my notes on the blue mock-up, as to how I’ve threaded each of the four legs, varying the movement. I want to try this again, exploring some more options, as the threading has a direct impact on the type of movement in each leg.

In this example, I have the Arduino controlling the servo by time intervals. I have also been playing with sensors to influence the movement, but that will come later.

Anyway, I’m sure there’s some exciting things to come, when I get some of this figured out.  The thing about electronics, is that it’s not like other media- it either works, or it doesn’t, there’s not really any inbetween. It can be really difficult to get things to do what you want, but when you do, it’s SO great!