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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Beautiful Machine

  • On March 23, 2018

Call On Water, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, 2016

A beautiful machine surprises us. This surprise could originate from the unexpected characters of the material used, and yet, it might also present itself in the form of artificial intelligence. In the past two weeks, I have been testing out this theory from both perspectives.


Design Process

One major problem I set out to solve was to automate my machine to clear its own drawing after every use. A helpful reference for the design was the industrial vibration table used to smooth out concrete. I constructed a prototype based on said design and the testing result was satisfying.

When it comes to incorporating the above mechanical model with the sand plotter, however, I ran into a few problems including the vibration motors leaving shadows on the top viewing screen of the lightbox, the motors blocking the Y-axis plotting arm, etc. The last resort was to mount the motors at the edge of the box and to have four motors running to ensure the strength of vibration. To my dismay, the motors made a ghastly sound, yet they were still effective for the clearing purpose.



Project Faire

Leading up to the Project Faire, I knew I had to design a simple and straightforward interaction for the visiting guests. It was a good opportunity to have real people interacting with my work, and I was curious to see how they would respond. The interaction I have settled on was to have the guest draw a shape and the sand plotter return with a doodle based on that shape. Here is a prototype video of the interaction:

This design was incredibly well received by the guests. Many asked to have a second go at the drawing and some beautiful pictures emerged.

One of the guests even took upon herself to collaborate with the machine and started altering the drawing the plotter has produced.


Visitor Feedback

Most of the feedback is quite uniform, and it centres around problems I haven’t had a chance to address, such as grounding the machine into its environment, ways to clear the drawing with a rake, etc. Some interesting discussions were also formed based on the intriguing patterns appearing in the sand from the vibration. A few people suggested that I look into chladni plates. That could be a way to introduce sound design in the future.

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