I’ve been a bit distracted lately, for good reason - I’ve been busy working with BESTCINCO, Michael Candy and Meagan Streader to design and build a series of interactive sculptures that will feature in the redevelopment of the heritage-listed ‘Gasworks’ site here in Brisbane.

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One of the best things about working with a group of creative people is brainstorming and thinking of new ways to stretch technology. “What if we made the lights mimic a brain?” I suggested, “We could get them to ‘fire’ like a neurone in response to activity they detect nearby.” “Can we do that?” was the reply. So here I am, cramming out some code that will turn the Gasworks into a simulated brain that senses and reacts to people using the space.

Suspended within the centre of the Gasworks structure will be ten sculptures, each containing a cluster of lights, a Raspberry PI, a webcam, Arduino and a host of electronics.

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Each of these sculptures loosely simulate a brain neurone. The webcams act as the ‘dendrites’, continuously monitoring the spaces underneath each sculpture for physical activity. Any detected activity is translated into an energy level that drives the lighting sequence for the attached sculpture (neurone). This energy level is sent from the Raspberry PI to the Arduino where it’s converted into a lighting sequence. Sculptures with low energy levels have a dim and slow random light sequence, while sculptures with higher energy levels have brighter, faster lighting sequences.

The energy level of each neurone continues to increase as movement is detected, until it reaches a threshold and ‘fires’. When this occurs, that sculpture broadcasts part of its energy to the adjacent sculptures, which in turn have brighter and faster lighting sequences. Meanwhile the neurone that fired will ‘reset’, dropping its energy level back to zero.

Below is a video of a single sculpture/neurone prototype, demonstrating how it detects movement and transitions from low energy to high, and finally ‘firing’.

With a load of hard work and a bit of luck, I hope we get some emergent behaviour (i.e. effects I have not explicitly coded) arising when people start interacting with the sculptures. The work will be permanently installed at the site in Newstead from the end of the year.

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