Tag Archives: Adafruit motor shield

This device visualizes breathing data using soap bubbles

As a study into the quantified self, this Maker duo sought out to raise awareness around subconscious breathing habits.

Philips Design Labs recently commissioned the help of two Dutch design students as part of the company’s exploration into the quantified self movement. Makers Amy Whittle and Willem Kempers developed a project that focused on the physiological act of respiration required to sustain life. Their goal was to raise awareness around our subconscious breathing habits by making data more accessible and easier to understand.


Ethereal breathing is something most of us probably rarely think about. However, it is something that can be controlled, which certainly comes in handy when trying effectively manage stress and anxiety.

“As anyone can testify, taking a deep breath before a nerve-racking experience can calm that anxiety,” the Makers explains, “But to what further extent can controlled breathing benefit the human body?”

To accomplish this feat, the duo devised a suspended installation that represented a pair of lungs and interacted with measured breathing data. Temperature sensors were placed inside their noses, and real-time information was acquired as they engaged in various daily activities, such as cooking and meditating.


The sensors were able to detect the fluctuation in temperature between the air that was being inhaled and exhaled. This data was then relayed to a fan that was tasked with blowing air into a giant soap bubble. Why a bubble, you ask? Similar to the human lungs, they are capable of expanding and contracting, thereby allowing the patterns to be easily visualized. The bubbles were highlighted using integrated LEDs, while the machine itself was controlled by an Atmel based Arduino running the Processing programming language, along with an Adafruit Motor Shield and a few stepper motors.

This mesmerizing exhibit explores the gap between analog and digital

This installation represents the basic components of computer graphics: the vertex and the edge.

Created by Oslo-based design studio Void, Irregular Polyhedron Study #1 is a physical representation of the very basic components of computer graphic, the vertex and the edge. The mesmerizing installation by Bjørn Gunnar Staal and Joakim Hoen explores the perceptual gap between the flat and the spacious, the analog and the digital, and addresses the inquiry of “When does a collection of arbitrary connected lines start to read as a volume? Does this perception change when the shape is altered?”


The project was a site-specific installation created for the window gallery Kungstensgatan 27 in Stockholm, which ran from November 2014 through February 2015. The exhibit itself consisted of a wireframe polyhedron made from black elastic bands that was strung up by fishing line and connected to nine stepper motors. As Creative Applications reveals, these steppers were controlled by five Atmel based Arduino boards and Adafruit Motor Shields, and an openFrameworks application simulating the overall motion scheme.


“The shape’s behavior became an erratic combination of several layers of noise and randomness combined with the occasional kick back from the steppers giving in to the overall tension in the shape,” Void explains. “A conscious choice was made not to avoid this behavior (it’s not a bug, it’s a feature!) and rather have it add to the uncanny nervousness and personality of the sculpture.”


The geometry was generated using Rhino, grasshopper and Kangaroo as an optimal compromise between the dimensions of the room, possible placements of motors and the directional vectors of tension towards each vertex. This model was then exported for physics simulation in openFrameworks and numbered measurements for cutting and connecting physical pieces of string.

Intrigued? Not only can you watch the exhibit in action below, you can read all about it on Creative Applications here.

Arduino powers these solar-tracking blinds

Yesterday, Bits & Pieces took a closer look at an Instructable that described how to automate smart window blinds with an Arduino Fio. Today, we’re going to be covering a solar-tracking automatic motorized window blind project powered by an Atmel-based Arduino Uno (ATmega328 MCU).

“Sunlight can be broken into essentially two components: direct and diffuse. The direct component comes straight from the sun, whereas the diffuse component is created when a portion of direct sunlight scatters due to molecules in the atmosphere,” project creator Nickzibin explained in a recent Instructables post.

“This project aims to control shade position to always block direct sunlight when present and maximize the diffuse component entering the workspace.”

As such, the motor moves the shade position depending on the of the location of the sun and the amount of light hitting a specific (targeted area). One of the best parts of this Instructable? Makers don’t need to purchase a brand new roller shade to make it work.

Aside from the Atmel-powered Arduino board, key project specs include:

  • Adafruit motor shield
  • Headers
  • Digital luminosity sensor
Stepper motor with planetary gear box
  • Power supply (12V)
3D printed gear via shapeways.com
Elastic band
  • Parametric CAD file of ball-chain gear

Perhaps the most important part of Nickzibin’s retrofitted solar-tracking blinds project is the control strategy algorithm based on the Tzempelikos method, where the shade height is controlled based on the calculated position of the sun and corresponding brightness.

“Their algorithm was based on open loop procedures which moved shade height to the position where it just blocks direct sunlight from falling on the workplane. The code in this project adopted their open loop aspects and added closed loop control during certain conditions,” said Nickzibin.

“The position of the sun is known in terms of its solar altitude (α) and solar surface azimuth (γ). The solar altitude is the angle between the horizon and the sun. The solar surface azimuth is the angle between the outward normal of a surface (e.g., vertical window) and the sun.”

More specifically, Nickzibin’s code calculated α and γ based on latitude, longitude altitude and angle from south to outward normal of vertical surface (azimuth) – all based on the following variables:

  • The sun is on the window surface: α > 0° & |γ| < 90°
  • The sun is not on the window surface: α > 0° & γ > 90°
  • The sun is below the horizontal α < 0°

“Developing prototypes using Arduino specific to building technology has [significant] potential to substantially reduce energy use in buildings,” Nickzibin added.

“This project can be easily integrated with a lighting system. In the future, the system could also be integrated with an HVAC system in order to minimize cooling and heating loads.”

Interested in learning more? You can check out Nickzibin’s official project page here.