What have you made?
It's a hand sewn elephant head sculpture with microcontroller electronics inside. It has evolved from a small paper origami elephant with blinking LEDs, to a large hand crafted elephant lamp shade with Wifi controlled RGB LEDs, microphone, speaker, and a custom designed iPad application to teach Harpa about colour.
The elephant model was designed in Blender, and 3D printed as a solid wireframe using the Shapeways service. The 3D print cost $70 and measures a fairly large 50cm wide x 50 cm high x 30cm deep. The idea with the wireframe was to hand sew all the faces onto the model, that way I could try different materials as well as save money on the 3D print (printing filled surface faces would cost thousands at that size).
What gave you the initial inspiration?
When Harpa was a few months old, she had trouble sleeping when we moved the cot into her own room. We tried all the recommended things to help her sleep, and eventually found a few things that worked for us. The first, unsurprisingly, was leaving some lights on so it wasn't completely dark, and the second was playing a looping audio file of white noise (similar to tv static). Initially we had a simple store bought lamp, and an ipod with speakers. At the time I was tinkering with Arduino, and thought it would be great to put these skills to use and build a single thing to replace the lamp and ipod/speakers.
What is the original idea behind this project?
My partner Adriana was really into hand made origami at the time and made all sorts of ornamental things for Harpa's room. One day she had made a small elephant (Harpa's favourite animal), and this became the first lampshade for the initial prototype. From then on we set out to make this a more permanent piece in keeping with the original idea of an origami elephant.
How does it work?
I designed and built a custom iPad application which allows Harpa to learn about colour by selecting from colour presets. The main interface displays a grid of coloured elephant heads. When one is selected, the name of the colour is pronounced from the app, and the main night light changes colour. There is a hidden control panel in the iPad app which allows me to change some of the more advanced features. For example, I can switch the 'white-noise' speaker on; I can switch on audio reactive mode which uses the microphone to detect variations in sound level to change the LED colours (great when playing music, not so much for a sleeping baby); I can also change the number of LED's, brightness, saturation, and have them auto cross fade into different colours.
How long did it take to make it real?
The initial prototype took a couple of weekends, and consisted of 3x super bright RGB LEDs and a small speaker connected to an Arduino Uno with the small paper origami lampshade. This was in use for about 6-9 months, before finishing the final piece. We took our time with the finished product as we experimented with many materials, techniques, and components. The most time consuming task was hand sewing all the individual faces onto the 3D printed wireframe (which took a couple weeks).
How did you build it?
The electronics are driven by an Arduino MEGA 2560 microcontroller with ethernet shield for network control. Connected to the board is a 50cm 5V RGB addressable LED strip with 30 LEDs, a 3.3V microphone module for sound detection, and an 8ohm speaker for playing back the generated 'white-noise' audio.