In my first semester at ITP, I remember learning about continuous rotation servos in PComp. They seemed pretty cool because I imagined that you could get positioning feedback, which would be useful for things like analog signage with sliding scales or moving arrows (like an old-school elevator indicator).

Quite the disappointment when I bought a continuous rotation servo and this wasn't at all how it worked.

After class I was looking around at items that I own that have DC motors and steppers and was reminded of the Ambient Executive Dashboard. The dashboard is a device that reports information with analog meters when data cards are inserted into slots. The data cards have little groves that tell the device what information to display. It pulls information over the old pager network, and it still worked when I plugged it in!

I was playing with this device three years ago and still find it fascinating. There is magic in the mechanical movement of the dials and the way they bounce when there is no information available. I'm not sure if it's nostalgia or mechanical wonder but I enjoy these physical interfaces more than any screen.

When I finally took the Ambient Dashboard apart tonight, it appears to be powered by stepper motors. When you plug it in, the device homes the dial moving it all the way to the left. It doesn't appear to have any type of encoder unless there is something built into the stepper. But based on the way it homes the dial I think it just calculates steps assuming the homing routine was successful.

Ambient Devices Stepper Motor Ambient Devices Stepper Board Assembly

Although this week's assignment was to work with motors, late last week I had a spark of an idea that uses solenoids. I decided to try to prototype this idea but can certainly go back to try something with motors for next weeks coursework.

In the last year a lot of my time was dedicated to how devices communicate. Today that's usually wired ethernet, wifi, Bluetooth or cellular. The throughput and amount of chatter on most of most of these mediums is pretty substantial and only grows as the Internet of Things* grows. What's more, it's not unexpected to find almost every electronic device wanting to be included in the conversation, from light bulbs (ZigBee), thermostats (wifi + thread) even smoke detectors (wifi + thread).

* I'm aware IoT has become a buzz word, but there are a lot of connected appliances and devices available at common retailers today. They all speak different languages and no one seems to care that nothing works with everything.

I began to wonder, what if all this chatter wasn't silent?

What if devices which each other via Morse Code? Or what if they communicated with humans this way as well?

I'm currently experimenting with a Toaster left by one of the people that sublet my apartment when I moved to Florida.

Toaster Inside Toaster Electromagnet

The timing of actuation and behavior has to be pretty specific and reliable for messages to be relayed successfully.

A couple ideas for going forward:

  • Conversing appliances, listen to each other and respond (about life, about usage, about their owner or using a primitive language processing engine like Eliza
  • Human interaction with appliances via Morse code, either by pressing the existing buttons in the correct sequence or something reminiscent of the clapper
  • Parasitic devices that latch on to larger appliances to either use them as a communication method (sheet metal) or share information about their host

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