Constellations Project: Play

constellation acrylic part 6

I am interested in creating a device that could reflect this the luminous quality of a constellation and teach people about them. I started to think about the interactive qualities of such a device.

Inspiration

prometheus control room

In 2012, the film Prometheus was released. It features a scene with vibrant star charts and constellations. In the film, one of the actors interacts with the constellations floating in the air.

ursa minor
cygnus

At it's most basic level, constellations are lines drawn between stars. They are difficult to find in the night sky but if you are familiar with the shape they are easier to identify. I thought about a device which could bend and flex to help people remember the lines that connect constellations. This could operate as a sort of hinge.

Some constellations consist of 15 or more stars: I knew I had to limit the amount of stars on my design to make it a manageable size. A number of constellations are made of eight stars so I decided to go with this number as a template.

Materials

desk lamp example

I reviewed different types of hinges, elements that I could piece together using a lasercutter or CNC milling machine.

dowel

Time spent creating a basic toolbox in AutoCAD and with CNC helped inform decision making around the hinge. I realised that different approaches are necessary depending on the tool (CNC versus laser-cutter).

dowel

It seemed that dowels would be a good system for rotating the stars in different directions. This Desk Lamp example provided an effective system of interlocking circles at different angles.

desk lamp example

Initially I was considering use of wood to contrast the synthetic nature of the EL wire. However, the availability of see-through acrylic material seemed to lend itself to the 'futuristic' look of the piece.

Luminiscence

adafruit
adafruit
adafruit
adafruit

I discovered a huge range of luminous materials available from a company named Adafruit. These materials can be cut into 3D shapes or wrapped around objects such as with the EL wire. I also discovered laserwire from a rival company, but the higher cost didn't fit the budget for this project. EL wire's colour and physical strength (as seen in this video) would make it highly appropriate to a device which is flexing in different directions.

I am continuing to consider is how best to house the inverter that came with the EL wire pack. It could be in-cased in acrylic material or tied to part of the structure in some way.

Guidebook

guidebook sketch

Another aspect of the project would be to link the play/educational aspects of the device. Somehow users would have to know that a) the rotation of the device is significant and (b) where to position the various stars to create the shape of a constellation. I therefore propose a guidebook which will act as an instruction to new users, reflecting the visual aspects of the device.

There is scope to extend this interaction using Arduino, might light up in different ways when goals are achieved, eg. Green for accurate constellation shape, red incorrect, etc. An mobile app could be used to animate the change of position using HTML5.

Development

In order to prototype the hinge in a rapid way, I was decided to work through the connection pieces on paper. Issues presented themselves regarding how the pieces would rotate and fit together. I had hoped that I could maintain a uniform width to all parts and make measurements consistent. I sought to determine how the wire could run through the device by means of a hinge. I discussed options with staff at the Fab Lab indicates not all options are possible with CNC, the original tool I had planned for my project.

Using the lasercutter, I needed a great deal more moving parts and also provide enough space for the EL wire. It proved challenging to incorporate different widths into the key structure rotating around the dowel. I found by using different thickness of acrylic (2, 3, 6mm) I could achieve a positive outcome. Attempting to combine different thickness, in some cases, made the device more secure, but halted the progression of the wire up the joint structure.

I used a system of dovetail corner joints with the acrylic, hoping enough compression on the dowel would keep the piece together. As I was doing this, I realised the EL wire was hanging loose within the structure of the device. This is the next challenge: Finding a way to better incorporate the wire....

constellation hinge 2
constellation hinge 1
constellation sketches 1
constellation sketches 2
constellation sketches 4
constellation sketches 3

I found it beneficial to work out the elements of the device (stars, joints, attachment pieces – long and short) using different colours in Illustrator. I initially started my drawing in Autocad but on switching to Autocad I found I could continue with Illustrator to accurately prepare the measurements.

After cutting pieces, some glue was used to add the two parts of the star together.

constellation acrylic part 2
constellation acrylic part 3
constellation acrylic part 2
constellation line work 3
constellation acrylic part 3
constellation acrylic part 4
constellation acrylic part 5
constellation acrylic part 6
constellation acrylic part 6
constellation acrylic part 5

At this point, I reconsidered the benefit and challenge of incorporating the EL wire into my design. I had found it challenging to incorporate the thin wire into peices that would reflect constellation shapes. To make these shapes rotatable was even more challenging. In addition, the EL wire lend itself to the the lighting ideas I have for the Aquila Table and I decided to reserve the material for this project.

constellation acrylic part 5
constellation acrylic part 6
constellation acrylic part 6

I made an attempt to create a lantern base that would support a light fixture. I was hoping to combine this with a guide of four key constellations, by cutting their shap into the side of the base. This proved a design challenge and many complex shapes, created in Illustrator, failed to boolean correctly using 3D software. I was able to 3D print the lock mechanism at the bottom of the base.

constellation acrylic part 5
constellation acrylic part 6
constellation acrylic part 6

Based on my earlier learning of acrylic material, I lasercut the shape of four major constellations - Aquila, Gemini, Orion and Leo. I combined them using purple dowel, modelled and printed using the Wap 2040. After testing the dowels for grip, I found it necessary to add rubber bands to support the structure. The colour of the bands added an additional aesthetic quality.

constellation acrylic part 5
constellation acrylic part 5
constellation acrylic part 6
constellation acrylic part 6