I'm pretty excited about the design of our interactive exhibit for Playful Communication of Serious Research. It's going to require a lot of time and ingenuity to make an amazing experience in four weeks. Because of the many different methods of fabrication that will be required to make this interactive, I want to focus my Digital Fabrication final working time on building the best exhibition possible. To make that happen, a number of different digital fabrication techniques will need to be combined.

The project is an interactive exhibit about how your brain processes vision. I'm building it with Brett, Hannah and Xuedi. We found a group of neurologists at NYU doing some awesome research and went to work trying to figure out a fun and interesting way to present the research to a broad audience.

Technical drawings of the experience:

Technical Drawing of ExhibitTechnical Drawing of Exhibit

Fabrication Techniques

Framing & Structural – Traditional Carpentry

The main framing will be primarily made of wood. Initially I thought we would build the framework out of aluminum t-slot rail. Hannah is going to help me discover the wonders of traditional woodworking. General carpentry has never been my strongest skill set, but getting the framing of the kiosk right is critical for the rest of the parts to fit and work correctly. I believe the structure will be made of some type of hardwood and the backing will be MDF which we can paint & stick printed vinyl over.

Interaction Area

Interaction Area – CNC Routing, Laser Cutting/Etching & Acrylic Painting

Laser Cutting & Etching & Acrylic Painting

spray maskingThe interaction focuses on six visual function areas (currently: faces, motion, depth, color, texture & direction). We are planning to use different colored acrylic for each area and use a different shape. I'm planning to cut the acrylic shape and a hole pass though for the cable interface connection. I'm adding text to the shapes, using a combination of raster etching and vector outlining around the characters. When the laser cutter is working again, I want to test the techniques discussed on the Ponoko blog.

CNC Routing

The interaction area baseboard will be made of plywood. I'm planning on using the router to pocket out recesses for each of the laser cut acrylic functional areas to fit into. I will also drill out holes for the electronic components to reside. I'm a bit undecided on the exact method of integrating the electronics and a magnet. We are planning on either using resistance (possibly subject to current fluctuations) or infrared pulses (possibly subject to interference from ambient light) to detect the position of each of the brain connection wires. It will either be painted or covered with printed vinyl.

Brain Cable Interaction Device – 3D Printing & Embedded Electronics

3D Printed Handhold for Cable

Part of making the interaction feel satisfactory is the sensation of plugging in and unplugging brain connection cables from different functional areas. We've been experimenting with light pipe, a magical material that is similar to a fiber optic but it glows from the sides rather than just the end. At the rear of the installation will be a bright 1W LED that will match the color of the visual area the cable is plugged into. At the end of the cable the user touches, we are designing a grip that will feature a very satisfying magnetic click into place in the interaction board. We are hoping to 3D print the 4 hand holds at AMS using the Objet, perhaps with a combination of two materials. Still be determined: what the design looks like and how it secures the light fiber in it's base. It might be neat if it's hollow, made of two parts and gets screwed together. I've ordered magnets from McMaster to test and we will develop the model this week.

3D Printed Brain

This one is confusing for me I must admit. Hannah is mostly spearheading this fabrication component. The idea is to combine an existing model with 3D color printed parts of the visual cortex. We need to talk to the folks at AMS about wall thickness and permeability to light if we try to embed LEDs inside.

Embedded Electronics

Light PipeThere are six visual areas featured and 4 brain connectors, resulting in 24 different combinations of cable locations. We can easily detect that a cable is plugged in, but how can we figure out if it's cable 1 or cable 4? We've developed two solutions, but aren't sure which one will be better. The first, is to combine an infrared LED at the light source end of the light pipe and detect infrared pulses in each of the visual area connection points. When the LEDs arrive, I'll test this method. The second option is to embed resistors into the handhold and check the resistance at each of the visual area connection points. This technique could be trouble if there are voltage fluctuations. Are there any other methods? RFID? It doesn't seem cost effective, but if all else fails that might be the way we have to go.

Panel Graphics – Large Format Printing & Vinyl Printing

Graphic Areas

Finally there comes the graphics. We are designing accompanying graphic panels, seen here as T1, T2, T3. The 'How We See' area is also a graphic and there may or may not be a vinyl overlay on the plywood in the T4 area. I used to get my charts printed at the ad agency I worked for. But this is a lot more exciting. I've seen some type of matte/anti graffiti coating on graphics at places like Disney. It looks very nice, but I can't figure out what it's called. Either way, we plan to get the graphics printed at AMS and may mount them on gator board or another similar material. The T3 area may be a vinyl print, securely attaching it to the platform.

We certainly have our work cut out for us. But this seems like the perfect opportunity to use some serious digital fabrication techniques to build a fun interactive experience.

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