What have you made?
The New Velocity is a machine that plots the phantom Sandy Island in digital means. It reproduces the same phenomenological conditions upon which the island was seen in 1876, and seeks to reinsert the charting glitch that endured in worldwide maps until 2012. The machine records new datasets that support the further existence of the island by supporting its existence by the means of datasets, available at the Sandy Island Reports.
The project investigates a charting error that persisted in cartographic maps even after the advent of digital media. It speculates how data and physical phenomena are entangled, and how in contemporaneity, the two have the same weight under digital media. The New Velocity explores how the phenomenon of Sandy Island happens only under certain speeds, when piles of sand and piles of data have the same faulty consistency.
What gave you the initial inspiration?
The work was developed during one of the courses I have taken during my (ongoing) masters studies at the University of the Arts in Bremen. The course was entitled Hacks and Hoaxes, and in it I have started researching how to hack geolocation systems, with no clear purpose in the beginning.
It was during such research that I’ve stumbled upon the story of Sandy Island. Back then, I have found very interesting how such place could for so many years persist in cartographic maps and geolocation systems without even having physically existed in the first place. This story itself seemed like an early successful hack: a glitch that the ship Velocity in 1876 induced into cartographic systems. At that point, I have got caught by the question: what if we could revive this story to support the further existence of the island that was dismissed as inexistent?
What is the original idea behind this project?
The original idea was to create a machine that could explore Sandy Island as a phenomenon between the digital and the analog, in both a critical and a poetic way. Poetically, it explores sand piles as piles of data, physical phenomena as digital ones, by supporting a new existence to an island that have vanished by rational means. Critically, the production of such datasets and their availability online exposes the fragility of data itself, and how open data banks as transparent mediums can be fallible and easily manipulated.
How does it work?
Sand piles are scanned by an infrared proximity sensor, which moves up and down over a platform replicating the movement of a ship floating over the high seas. The spacial data is mapped into different datasets that are visualized in realtime. The machine operates under four different preset modes, one for each dataset it records: coastline coordinates, water depth surroundings, topographical elevation and digital geotagging. Each set of datasets evidences the presence of an islet within the island’s range, and is posteriorly uploaded to Sandy Island’s open data bank for spreading.
An Arduino Uno was used to control the physical motion and parse the analog data from the proximity sensor. Attached to the
Arduino, two DRV8834 low-voltage stepper motor carriers drive two NEMA 17 stepper motors (one controlling the vertical platform, the other controlling the roundtable). The Arduino also parses the data from a Sharp GP2Y0A41SK0F analog distance sensor, and it also controls four LEDs and a toggle button used to start and display the current state of the machine.
In the software side, the AccelStepper library was used to control the motor’s motion. The Arduino takes the data and sends it through a serial cable to a Raspberry Pi running Open Frameworks to create the generative visuals and finally parse the datasets that are uploaded online.
How long did it take to make it real?
Overall, four months. The ideation and concept phases took the greatest part of the process, which was done side by side with physical experiments during the first two months. After I’ve had a clear idea of what the project would be and look like, it was easy and fun: I have quickly assembled a first running prototype, and started making experiments with the final components. All the Arduino setup with the motors and sensors was done in the course of two weeks, and the rest of the time was spent producing and perfecting the wooden cases, generative output, and website.
How did you build it?
During prototyping, several components materials were tested using standard prototyping tools (breadboards, wooden pieces, elastics, etc), until the final setup described bellow was assembled:
Physical motion and sensing:
- Arduino Uno AccelStepper Library.
- Two NEMA 17 Stepper Motors.
- Two DRV8834 Low-Voltage Stepper Motor Driver Carrier.
- Sharp GP2Y0A41SK0F Analog Distance Sensor 4-30cm.
- Four Red LEDs and a toggle button.
Generative output (visuals and mapping):
- Open Frameworks.
- Raspberry Pi 2 Raspbian Jessie.
- Wood cases (Pinus). The roundtable was shaped using a CNC-Machine, the rest was cut using standard wood machinery in a wood workshop. All sanded by hand later.
- 3mm white acrylic plates, shaped using a laser cutter.
- Steel threaded poles and different screws.