Blinky - Weather Communication System

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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 transmit 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 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. 

My Role
I was responsible for the concept, physical and arduino prototype, scenario drawings, visual design and presentations. I worked in collaboration with Alessandro Filippi and Alberto Moro who 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 light sourrounding a little hole: this 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 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 smooth semi-transparent surface located in the device, and can be seen by looking into the little 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 the device is the Arduino board to which the BlinkM rgb leds array is physically connected. The microphone amplification system detects the breath, and the array of twelve white LEDs. Once the data is sent to Arduino, the software inside selects a light pattern preset from the library (sunny, rainy, stormy), 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 extremely 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 diffused and more subtle light effect. Connecting the Arduino, the Processing code and the weather widget was also very challenging. In order to make all the elements inside the device working together the system required both electronics and computer programming.  

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