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PHYSICAL COMPUTING, INTERACTION DESIGN

PHYSICAL COMPUTING,
INTERACTION DESIGN

Blinky - Weather Communication System

Goals. Blinky is a remote communication system based on weather api feeds, which allows two people who are distant to keep in touch in a different, unusual and involving way. The system is composed of two devices, one per user, each of which is activated by blowing and produces a visual output that represents the weather conditions of the place where its partner is. This project aims to be an alternative to the "traditional” communication devices to trasmit and receive

just the kind of information that gets otherwise lost in the excessive flow of information that we experience everyday. Blinky delivers his “ping” in response to a human gentle breath, a simple and physical way of interaction, while the visual output is produced from the local weather conditions where the other Blinky is located. Blinky is built with Arduino, Processing and an some RGB LEDs.

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My Role. I was responsible for the concept, physical and arduino prototype, scenario drawings, visual design and presentations. I worked in collaboration with other two designers, Alessandro Filippi and Alberto Moro who both worked on the Arduino and Processing code and on the physical protoype. Blinky was realized during the Interaction Design Lab at University of Venice (2009). End to end the project last 3 months.

How it works. On the front of each device there’s a ring of LEDs light sourrounding a little hole that is used for both the input and output of the system. The ring resembles the shape of a dandelion. In a normal state the dandelion is barely visible, lit at 20% of its maximum brightness to give the idea of something alive and to be seen also when the ambient is dark. When one of the users blows into her device she gets a visual feedback of the weather of the city where the other user is located. 

Outcome. The weather feedback is projected on a semi-transparent surface located in the device, and can be seen by looking into the hole. Once a city is selected, the program retrieves the relative weather feed from Yahoo and shows it to the user. The central core of Blinky is an Arduino board to which the BlinkM rgb LED array is connected. The microphone amplification system detects the  breath. Once the data is sent to Arduino, the software selects a light pattern preset from the library (sunny, rainy, stormy, cloudy), changing the base color according to the local temperature and humidity. Finally the software sends the preset loop via serial protocol to the rgb LED array starting the light representation.

Challenges. We spent a lot of time considering how modern technology can trasform the most complex tasks into something easy and pleasant to do for everyone. Our main challenge was to get the right visual quality for the light: not too strong and not too subtle. The rgb LED array was the core of the system and it was finished in less than a week but it delivered a very concentrated light so we placed a layer of brushed semitransparent paper on top of it to get a more diffused light effect. Connecting the Arduino, the Processing code and the weather widget was also very challenging. In order to make all the elements working together the system required both electronics and computer programming.  

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