Tag Archives: Liat Clark

Building a city of the future with Arduino

Writing for Wired UK, Liat Clark describes the recently held Playable Cities competition between British and Brazilian digital artists.

“The scheme was launched in January, when a Brazilian cohort came to Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol to explore the concept of a future city that is not just smart and efficient, but fun to live in,” writes Clark.

“While driverless vehicles and smart meters remain the focus of those future metropolises, Watershed wanted to explore how a smart city could be interactive, playful and most importantly, how it could bring communities together. With help from the British Council’s Creative Economy program, this [initiative] was taken to Recife.”

One of the featured exhibits was Fortune Fictions, a futuristic bus stop that cheerfully delivers witty one liners to waiting passengers. 

According to Fábio Florencio, a sound and game designer, Fortune’s goal is is to “deliver enjoyable moments” for people who are bored waiting for their buses.

“[The project] also deals with complicated elements in Recife such as lost times in traffic jams, the heat in summer and rain in winter,” he says.

More specifically, the futuristic bus stop is furnished with an Atmel-based Arduino board that receives commands from a physical button pressed by citizens – with an MP3 shield triggering sounds and phrases. In the future, Florencio and his team envision equipping the stop with pressure sensors (for the benches) and RFID readers.

“It rewards the curious Recife bus traveller with fantastical words of wisdom, gauging the mood of the city and breaking the monotony of waiting times,” Florencio explains. “Drawing on data such as weather, traffic, pollution and football information, enigmatic advice, broadcast from the bus stop itself, sends the passenger on their way with a thought… and a smile.”

Press Play – another Arduino-based exhibit displayed at the Playable Cities competition – engages the public via music. Indeed, pedestrians can touch hands, fitted with sensors, to play part or all of a tune.


So, how does it work? Well, Press Play is fitted with a conductive matting for durable touch switches connected to an Arduino and wav-Trigger board. This configuration supports up to eight tracks running simultaneously from a micro SD card.

“[Press Play] became a gathering spot for different people that haven’t met before but, for a short period, felt intensely connected with each other,” Filipe Calegario, a doctorate student for UFPE’s Informatics Centre, told Wired UK. “Last Friday was the first day of public testing and, for a moment, the systems stopped working because the battery ran low. The people’s reaction was impressive, they felt so involved that the absence of sound made them shout ask us to make the system work again. It was such a spontaneous reaction.”

The full text of Liat Clark’s “Urban Legends Brought to Life in Playable Cities Competition” can be read here on Wired UK.

Geppetto-style toymaking with Atmel and Arduino

The London-based MakieLab wants to take its customers back to a time when real toy making was a creative, hands-on “Geppetto” experience.

Indeed, the MakieLab platform allows DIY Makers to design a doll from scratch, which is ultimately uploaded and 3D printed at MakieLab headquarters. Subsequently, they are painted, with eyelashes and other features carefully affixed by hand.

“Avatars are very popular, but virtual goods have been phenomenal – we wanted to see if virtual could turn to real. We also wanted to help, introduce the magic of 3D printing to games and toys,” MakieLab founder Alice Taylor told Wired’s Liat Clark on the sidelines of Maker Faire Rome 2013.

“[So] we put out a working demo immediately, you would never normally do that. Dolls usually take four years from concept to shelf, between testing, building and feedback. We tried it the software way. We put it live and iterated with feedback.”

According to Taylor, MakieLab soon found that Makers wanted even more mods made, so they put clothing design online for people to hack, while also fitting the Atmel-powered (ATmega168V/ATmega328V) LilyPad Arduino inside the dolls’ heads.

“One lady called Cat wanted [‘smart’] ears,” said Taylor. “Whenever she walks into a room and claps her hand, the doll’s ears move toward the sound.”

Taylor confirmed that MakieLab would continue to offer additional personalization, which will be supplemented by an upcoming game in which children can build stories around their characters.

“One day, kids may create it all, right down to drawing fabric we can print with laser printers,” she added. “When we show kids how it’s done, you can see their eyes changing in front of you. They’ll grow up believing they can build things in ways we can’t imagine.”

Ardunio-powered Colour Chasers offer music for all

A London-based sound artist and designer named Yuri Suzuki has designed a robot that allows people of all ages and abilities to write music.

“I have passion to make and play music. I used to learn piano, trombone, guitar, however reading musical score is the biggest wall for me,” Suzuki told Wired (UK).

“I used to play trombone in a Ska music band. We had been working together for seven years. However, I got fired because I cannot read musical score. So I dreamed to create new musical notation [to give] dyslexic people [easy access].”

As Wired’s Liat Clark notes, Colour Chasers are aptly named, as the small train-like robots literally chase colors drawn onto a black line, playing a different sound for each different color or shape they meet.

“Each robot is fitted with two sensors that run on [an Atmel-powered] Arduino – one is programmed to follow black lines made by marker pens, and the other to detect different colors,” Clark explained. “There are a total of five different car robots that each read colors differently, producing different sounds, from drums to chords.”

The Colour Chasers were exhibited as a public audiovisual installation “Looks Like Music” this summer at Mudam Luxembourg.

“I [wanted] to show the potential of music and sound.This installation is based on basic musical logic and people understand how the process works,” Suzuki added.

So what’s next for talented musician? Well, Suzuki and his R&D consultancy company Dentaku are currently working on a synthesizer board dubbed Ototo that transforms saucepans into drum kits and makes origami sculptures sing when touched using accompanying sensors, inputs and touch-pads. Ototo is slated to make its debut at the Abandon Normal Devices Festival Fair on Saturday, October 5th.