Arduino makers project - Pinokio


Pinokio is an exploration into the expressive and behavioural potentials of robotic computing. Customized computer code and electronic circuit design imbues Pinokio with the ability to be aware of its environment, especially people, and to express a dynamic range of behaviour. As it negotiates its world, we, the human audience, can see that Pinokio shares many traits possessed by animals, generating a range of emotional sympathies. In the end we may ask: Is Pinokio only a lamp? – a useful machine? Perhaps we should put the book aside and meet a new friend.


What have you made?

Pinokio is an exploration into giving an object of common daily use some personality and character. To design Pinokio, we kept a model in mind and that was the image of the first ever invented adjustable lamp, born in 1932 out of the mind of the British designer George Carwardine: the Anglepoise lamp. The Anglepoise lamp was described, in an old advert, as “flexible, obedient and practical”: the opposite of Pinokio.

Together with my assistant and animator Shanshan Zhou, I started thinking about giving a lamp its own personality and life, and, with an eye on the most useless machine concept, we decided what kind of personality and character to give our Pinokio. It’s an artistic exploration, therefore not meant for mass production: as a matter of fact, we produced two for exhibits purposes only.

What gave you the initial inspiration?

As I said earlier, we first decided we wanted to give an everyday use object a personality, a specific character and some life of its own. We hadn’t yet decided what type of object we would use, therefore we can say our initial inspiration came from that desire. We then decided that the everyday “living” object would be a lamp, and, at a later stage, we asked ourselves: what would a living lamp be like?

The answer was: it would be a very serious lamp, taking its job really seriously, and switching on only at night.

What is the original idea behind this project?

The purpose to animate an object was the very first idea. We didn’t think of it as being an homage to somebody or to a product. The lamp turned out to be the perfect object to animate. Then we wondered what a living lamp was and how it did move.
Our lamp is taking, as said, its job very seriously: it’s awake, it’s aware of the things going on around it, it’s looking at people in the face, and, finally, it doesn’t want to be turned off. It knows by itself when it wishes to sleep or to let others wake it up.
Pinokio takes itself very seriously and, in doing so, it becomes really funny.

How does it work?

Pinokio uses a webcam and microphone to interact with the public, four servos to allow it to move, a switch and a lightbulb. An Arduino Nano is the bridge between the switch and the motors, and between the motors and the pc.
All of the animation is led by software running on the pc, taking in stimuli from the webcam and microphone and translating it into movements, which are translated by Arduino Nano to the servos doing the job.
It’s still the animation software that makes the webcam open to look for faces, as in the filmed Pinokio, deciding how long they’ve been there and dictating Pinokio’s behaviour based on those pieces of information. The lamp, thanks to the software and the Arduino Nano, responds to the stimuli coming from the external environment.
When the lamp overheats (that is, the motors overheat), the lampshade goes down and switches Pinokio off, resting on the switch and preventing it from being turned on again. This is a behaviour based on time, depending on how long Pinokio has been switched on.
When it has cooled down (again, based on time), Pinokio lifts its lampshade on, and is available to be switched on again.
This, to the onlooker, looks like Pinokio’s own behaviour, or rebellious mood, and apparently it autonomously decides to go to sleep, but as a matter of fact it’s not only meant to be like that, but it also responds to technical considerations, to avoid overheating of the servos.

How long did it take to make it real?

Between Hardware, Software and what we could name as electronics, it took two months to develop the initial prototype and 4 months of full time, very intensive work, for each one of us, me and Shanshan Zhou, in very tight collaboration, to build the final version.

How did you build it?

We bought a lamp, that we then almost totally rebuilt: of the original lamp, only the lampshade was left. We used 3D printing, laser cutting, water-jet cutting, welding and CNC lathe to remake the lamp; an Arduino UNO during prototyping, Arduino Nano for the final two lamps, a webcam with a microphone, 4 servos, a switch and a lightbulb.