Thanks to all at Lightwave, Science Gallery, Trinity College, Dublin, IE for a wonderfully well presented exhibition, and for the opportunity to meet a number of fantastic artists from around the globe, as well as catching up with a few from the ITP crew.
Next up: NEXT.
Getting ready for All Points West next weekend. Up to 1024x216 at approximately 316 colors. We are go for animation.
We're all set to display the new ORB and ultraORB at The Last Hope at Hotel Pennsylvania tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday. We spent the evening in the space prepping things and meeting a few of the early arrivals. Looking forward to an interesting weekend.
Time for sleep now. I thought hackers were going to bed at 8:30am, not registering for conferences.
For the past few months, and really accelerating in the last couple of weeks, Dad and I have been working on a new piece, set to debut at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival April 25-27. At its core will be a much improved spherical display with high-res surface complemented by volumetric accents, all in 24-bit color. On-board will be on the order of 10GB of removable flash memory, combining the increased resolution and color depth with a much greater potential show length as well as much easier program changes. All of this will lend itself toward a renewed focus on content, which is a very exciting thing for me as a big step toward the high-definition three-dimensional canvas which I originally envisioned with the ORB.
To make this a reality, I've finally crossed the void into the world of FPGA, and I'm loving it. The ability to quickly create massively parallel hardware in a few lines of code is really powerful. It takes a bit of getting used to, but within a few days I was generating the beginnings of working code in VHDL, largely with the help of Volnei A. Pedroni's Circuit Design with VHDL and the Altera Cyclone III Starter Kit. Now, just under a week into serious development, I feel as though I've got a pretty good handle on things, so the learning curve isn't as steep as it initially seemed, particularly if you've got some crossover experience developing both software and hardware.
As is unfortunately too often the case though, the learning curve seemed steeper when it came to using some of the pre-existing libraries I found. I needed SPI to access the flash memory, and so I started looking for libraries. The Altera board shipped with Quartus II which I'm using for all of my development and is a pretty nice package. Quartus leads you directly to Altera's NIOS soft-core processors with all kinds of great add on modules. These designs are cool because they allow you to set up part of the FPGA to act as a microprocessor meaning you can develop in a typical procedural language like C where appropriate, using the hardware definition languages only where necessary. The demos were easy to walk through and I thought I had everything figured out — until I read about the $2500 per seat licensing fee.
I'd heard of OpenCores and it sounded like a really cool project so I thought I'd check it out. OpenCores is essentially Sourceforge for HDL (hardware definition language) designs, albeit much less trafficked. It appears that there is some great work going on there, but at my level of knowledge, the documentation was just insufficient for my needs. If I really needed a fully-featured CPU running on my chip I'm sure I could have figured it out given enough time, but as it stands it's far from plug and play. And as the countdown timer on coachella.com continually reminds me, the show starts in 45 days, 17 hours, 28 minutes and 26 seconds. So it's time for action.
As it turned out, I spent a bit more time tweaking the SPI module I had been writing prior to looking at the soft cores, and with just a bit more effort, got it up and running. I then began work on a state machine that controls the SPI module and passes the data out to a set of PWM modules which actually control the LEDs. I'm still working on scaling the code and getting some of the finer control functionality implemented, but all indications are that with a few more days of work the code will be 99% complete. Then its on to PCB design, construction, and content.
In parallel with the electronics, Dad's hard at work building two chassis, one to ship to Manhattan for me to use as a framework to finish the electronic development and another to finish out in time for Coachella. We've got a totally new look this time, a bit more design-influenced and incorporating some cool high-tech materials. I'll get some photos of that part of the process up here as soon as they become available.
In the meantime, it's back to work.
Thanks to everyone who came out tonight to the closing party of the Interactive Youth exhibition at Material Connexion. I'd also like to thank everyone at Material Connexion, who hosted a great event, especially the outstanding Ben Rosenthal, Project Manager for Public Programs.
Also, in from the archives is a link from back in May from the Popular Science How 2.0 Blog about the ORB at Maker Faire.
Material Connexion, New York has installed an exhibition entitled Interactive Youth which is an assortment of work from Michael DelGaudio, Anne Hong, Andrew Schneider, and my father and me, including Storyteller, Sasu Bracelets and Ochie's Cube, Solar Bikini, The Alphabet Machine, Mutherboards, City Streets, Northern Lights, and The ORB.
The exhibition was just blogged by the industrial design site Core77, and yesterday I took some photos, a few of which are posted below.
The exhibition will be on display through Aug. 3, 2007. Material Connexion is located at 127 W. 25th St., NYC. Many thanks to Ben Rosenthal @ MC for all of his hard work in making this exhibition a reality.
...on the ORB!
Jimmy and his team were great. We shot a short interview which should air on Jimmy Kimmel Live! within the next couple of weeks. Jimmy said he "felt like the Mona Lisa" and that his mug on the ORB was "the most beautiful thing I've ever seen". MAKE!
This comes to you from a quiet hotel lounge on the east side of Denver on our way to the MAKE Magazine Maker Faire, where we will join some 400 makers (including a handful of ITP'ers such as Andrew Schneider, Team Botanicalls, Giana Gonzalez, Tom Igoe, and last but not least, FabInfo instructors Toru Hasegawa and Mark Collins) with ORB and ultraORB in hand and ready to exhibit. A few tens of thousands of attendees are expected of all ages and all walks of life and I'm expecting a fantastic time sharing our work with the curious as well as exploring the rest of the exhibits. I'm also slated to give a talk/demo on Thursday's Maker Day, a day of events held specifically for the exhibitors and other presenters and organizers.
Maker Faire is held at the San Mateo Fairgrounds in San Mateo California and is open to the public on May 19-20. Advance tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students 21 and under, and $5 for children 12 and under ($20/$15/$5 respectively on-site). Hope to see you there.
Just for old times' sake...
Moving forward — a quick spin with one of the two boards. Now on to connect the brushes to power up the other half. More later...
The initial mockup. Time for bed.
LEDs are soldered and testing is underway. There are a few minor bugs to tweak out with the lighting and then it's on to full assembly and programming. The color balance is a bit askew, but that's an issue for another day. 48 hours to go...
Here's a view of 1/8th of the final assembly with LEDs in place. 280 LEDs to go.
Resting atop the PCB is the CNC machined aluminum board mount, holding in the foreground one of the four DC-DC stepdown converters from short-circuit.com. The board mount is topped by the three conductor commutator assembly, handmade from readily available materials and a few custom laser cut plexiglas spacers. The commutator mates with a set of brushes to deliver +15VDC, GND, and a timing signal from one of a pair of hall effect sensors mounted on the assembly rotating about the vertical axis (each quadrant of each PCB also has its own hall effect sensors to sense rotation about the horizontal axis).
For those of you who haven't been following along with the in-person presentations, here's a little clip of video that was shot about a month and a half ago, showing the ultraORB concept in action. This is a demo and concept test with 4 single-color LEDs — the version due to be presented this coming week will have a total of 320 tri-color LEDs under microprocessor control to create a truly three dimensional persistence of vision display.
Just under 100 hours to go until the first display of the ultraORB at my thesis presentation, Thursday, May 3 at 8:40pm. There is still a lot to do, but things are moving forward. 16 microcontrollers are interfacing with 128MB of onboard flash memory and my laptop through 8 dual-channel USB interfaces. Now it's on to wrapping up a few loose ends and then soldering the 320 RGB LEDs. Then on to the first spin. Stay tuned...
After a couple of days of intense soldering, the first major task is complete. The 960 0201 LEDs are all in place. It's funny, after two days of work, the boards look almost entirely the same to the naked eye. While I can barely focus on the screen to write this (seriously — now I understand what it's like to need glasses, if thankfully temporarily), the upside is that after soldering almost 1k 0201 parts, the 0402 package parts look like bricks and are easier than ever to handle. In any case, I'm here to say that it is very possible to hand solder 0201 parts. Time to go clear the head and get ready for another day of soldering tomorrow. In the meantime, here's the view from the soldering station:
The circuit boards are here, having made the trip from the GoldPhoenix fab in Wuhan, China to Manhattan in about 36 hours. The parts are here, a day early in typical DigiKey fashion. Now it's time to start burning some flux. Before I do, though, here are a couple of quick photos from the unpacking process.
The virgin board. I have a pair of these to solder, with at a guess maybe 3-4k SMD pads each. It looks like I won't be seeing much daylight for the next week or two.
If you've ever wondered what $2k in DigiKey parts looks like, wonder no more. Not all that impressive on the surface, eh?
Finally there is some positive progress to report on the latest ORB. The circuit boards have been designed and ordered (thanks, as usual, to Shane @ GoldPhoenix) and the CNC milled aluminum circuit board supports are completed and in hand. Many thanks to David Gotter (bio) and Rob Klaus of D&R Machine for their excellent work and patience in helping me through my first design for CNC fabrication. Check out David's other project, Further OPTIONS developing "innovative vehicle entry systems for wheelchair-bound individuals". D&R offers extremely capable and affordable machining services and is open for long-distance business via Internet and mail order. Contact them for your next project.
I'm also very excited to say that this piece has become a three-generation project. In addition to my collaborator and father, Ron Sears, my grandfather Jim McCoy is contributing his masterful woodworking and finishing skills to this project. Everything is in line for a beautiful piece.
This week, my biggest test thus far will begin: a massive soldering undertaking centering around 320 surface mount RGB LEDs, and a matching 960 resistors in 0201 packages. That's 0.024" x 0.012" for those of you keeping score at home. In addition, the design utilizes sixteen 80-pin PIC microcontrollers and a slew of other circuitry. If I can still focus my eyes well enough to see the audience at thesis week, I'll call it a victory. Starting later this week, when the parts and boards arrive, I'll be posting photos and possibly video of the assembly process right here on this blog.
For now though, here's a peek at one of the pair of aluminum board mounts fabricated at D&R Machine. There's much, much more to come, culminating in an initial exhibition at the ITP Thesis Week and Spring Show, on May 3 and May 8-9, respectively.
Here are some photos from early January as my father and I built the display guard for The Orb.
The Orb certainly isn't the first ever idea for a dynamically controlled, three dimensional, global display. Once upon a time in 1962 a man named Buckminster Fuller (Wikipedia) conceived a proposal for a project 200 feet in diameter and covered with 10,000,000 computer controlled light sources, called The Geoscope, to be suspended over the East River in full view of the United Nations.
This 200-foot-size Geoscope would make it possible for humans to identify the true scale of themselves and their activities on this planet. Humans could thus comprehend much more readily that their personal survival problems related intimately to all humanity's survival.
The Geoscope's electronic computers will store all relevant inventories of world data arranged chronologically, in the order and spacing of discovery, as they have occurred throughout all known history.
Historical patterns too slow for the human eye to comprehend, such as the multimillions-of-years-to-transpire changes in the geology of our planet -- for instance, the picturing on the Geoscope Earth in two minutes of the drifting apart of the continental plates.
Or in another four-minute sequence picturing, the last four one-million-years each ice ages, spaced 250,000 years apart, their transforming of the world's oceans into ice cappings, which water shifts reveals peninsulas interconnecting what we now know only as islands -- for instance, the Malay Peninsula including all of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Bali, Sulawesi, and the Philippines, as it did in the last ice age.
Original concept sketch of Geoscope by Buckminster Fuller, via The Architecture Department, University of Auckland
Since the warm reception at the ITP Winter Show The Orb has been getting a good amount of attention around the blogosphere. Here are some of the mentions of which I'm aware (in rough order of appearance):
It's also been YouTubed (thanks to MaximusNYC):
With 7 hours and change to spare, the Orb is ready for showtime...
Position sensors are active and the PICs are timing — we have control. The fully interrupt-driven PIC C18 code is not yet displaying bitmaps, but simple algorithmically generated patterns are displaying easily at no less than 260 pixels per revolution (in the bottom pair of images with the blue and green grid, each vertical line corresponds to 10 angular steps). The position sensors for each side are slightly misaligned, which is causing a convergence problem in the interlacing, but that will be a quick fix by simply moving the hall effect sensor on one side or the other. On a brighter note, the simple firmware is doing a relatively good job of adjusting for a wide range of operating speeds. The display looks best at the full rated motor speed of around 1600 RPM, but the wiring needs more securing before it can run continuously at that speed.
Up next is creating code to save and read bitmaps (and animation) to and from the flash memory for full control. In the meantime, here are some photos of tonight's work:
The wiring is mostly in control, and with a speed control on the drive motor keeping the revs reduced, everything appears relatively stable. A little more checking, cleaning, and tweaking and hopefully we'll be at full speed soon. Then it's on to position sensing and beyond the test patterns.
The LED wiring is complete — no spinning until they are tied down tomorrow morning.
Steady progress on the Orb (still looking for an official title — Orbital is the current favorite). Here's progress from installation of all four logic boards along with the pair of power filtration boards, through 25% illuminated. This is all just with simple test patterns, no real programming yet.
Here are some photos from the last few days of development on the 3D display:
Bending of the laser cut plexiglas strips into the rings that hold the LEDs around the custom form, also laser cut from MDF
Mounting the plexiglas ring on the frame
One of the first tests with the plexiglas ring installed. Runs perfectly and looks incredible even with no LEDs
The pair of power filtration boards are installed, along with a pair of incomplete logic boards for physical testing
Fine pitch TSSOP deadbug work. Unfortunately, soldering the leadless CASON package took some practice, and in the meantime everyone ran out of stock. So the choice came to either shrink the memory capacity (and the corresponding animation length) or to handwire a TSSOP in its place. Clearly the latter was the choice. Yes, there is a TSSOP-28 Atmel DataFlash hiding under the left side of that pile of wire.
I'm back in St. Louis (Jersevyille actually) and just got to see the frame for the Orb for the first time about an hour ago. It looks fantastic. Here are a couple of photos. I can't wait to start putting the pieces together. The red and amber streaks are just a pair of LEDs rotating on the frame in 3D space. 64 tri-colors addressing somewhere between 16k and 32k points in space should be pretty mindblowing.
The PCBs for the 3D spherical display are in, and here's a sneak preview of the beginning stages of assembly:
As I get farther into the assembly process (the entire system will use four identical copies of this board) I will attempt to get some action photos detailing my surface mount soldering process. This is my first time soldering a .5mm pitch QFP package (the PIC18LF8722) and I was pleased to find that it wasn't bad at all. The only remaining question mark then is the 8CASON package of the 64Mbit Atmel flash memory (shown at left upside-down next to its final home). It fits an SOIC-8 footprint, but with no width to spare, and it is a leadless package, so there is no pad or lead for me to solder with my iron. I'm optimistic about soldering it with ITP's rumored hot air station, so hopefully tomorrow you will be seeing photos of at least one fully completed board and one smiling student, and maybe a hot-air soldering tutorial from a rookie's perspective.
Otherwise, all is proceeding well. Here's a preview shot of the fantastic frame and support mechanism that my father is currently crafting for the project. This photo is a few days old, and the piece is coming along great. We should be starting to put all the pieces together within the next few weeks. Stay tuned...
I should also mention that I am trying Kester 331 Water Clean flux and the matching solder for the first time and it is incredible. At the first impression at least, soldering is just as easy as with the standard 44 flux/solder that I have been using for years, but the flux residue comes off the boards with a hot water rinse almost instantly. It's far easier to clean 331 with hot water than it is to clean 44 with acetone and alcohol, and obviously much more appropriate to do so in my apartment. I highly recommend it. Of course it is still leaded solder, so don't forget to wash your hands.