Liquid Light — PComp Midterm

For our midterm, Yeseul Song and I decided to play with gyro sensors. We had many ideas of what we wanted to create, starting with a pen that you can draw in 3D space. We then saw that VR controllers already play with this concept, so we decided to go in another direction. I liked the idea of a pen in 3D space, so I will probably revisit this idea in the future.

Yeseul and I decided that we wanted to use the gyro to play with light. The major reason I came to ITP was to learn about building light structures, so this was a great opportunity to learn how to program LED pixels with raw data from a sensor. Little did I know how complicated the gyro sensor would be!

We decided that we were going to hook up a gyro to LEDs and shape them into a cube. We would then program the LEDs to act like how water would act in a cube.

We first hooked up the gyro to test what kind of data we would get out of the sensor (GY-521). Connecting our gyro to our Arduino, we saw that we got seven values from our sensor: an X,Y,Z coordinates for the gyro, an X,Y,Z coordinate from the accelerometer, and a temperature gauge. I built a simple p5 sketch using WebGL in order to pull the values from the serial communication to visualize how the XYZ coordinates of the gyro worked.

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Once we got the p5 sketch to work, we connected our gyro to a Adafruit NeoPixel strip and wrote Arduino code to make the light travel the strip as we moved the gyro sensor.

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With our gyro interacting with our pixel properly, we began to solder some pixels together into the shape that we wanted, as well as developing an algorithm to imitate water.

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The algorithm to imitate water proved to be very difficult. We first created a p5.js sketch to illustrate the effect we wanted on a canvas. However, translating this canvas to a strip of pixels proved to be very difficult. After hours of debugging, we finally realized that it would be easier to think about the strip of code as a graph, and that the preliminary effect we wanted our lights to imitate was similar to y=mx+b on a coordinate system.

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This breakthrough helped us develop our algorithm for how our gyro could interact with our LEDs in a 2D space. Once we had our lights working in a 2D space, we could extrude the LEDs into 3D space by using the gyro Y and Z coordinates.

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Unfortunately, we ended up running out of time to finish a complete project, but we definitely learned a lot in building this concept. We had a ton of practice coding and debugging our Arduino, as well as developing p5.js sketches to help us visualize what we were trying to do. I was happy that we got to use LEDs, as it was a major interest of mine coming into ITP. Here is our final concept for our midterm.

I look forward to completing the cube and developing the algorithm for the z coordinate as well. I will update this blog in the future with our final product.

For more photos/videos regarding this project, check out the flickr page here. Code can be found here.