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It’s about control

Filed under: Arduino,Processing — frm @ 6:58 pm

Interactive animations need intuitive controls to make them easy to play with. Since they always have a bunch of parameters to control, dragging with the mouse always seems a bit clumsy.

Slider arrayI figured that what’s really wanted is a bank of sliders and buttons to play with, each controlling a parameter. That way people can walk up to the controls as if they were approaching the bridge of a starship, and just twiddle them however they feel.
The Box by Daylight

Now, with the help of the Dorkbot Alba team, I finally have the controls I’ve long dreamed of, in the shape of a box with six sliders, five buttons and two glowing switches. It is a thing of beauty.

PLAYThe obvious next step once you have a good interface for a set of generative animations is to start putting them in public places for people to experiment with, I think.

The first such place was the Forest Hall in Edinburgh, at a night called Dubversion, along with a collection of electrical strangeness from Dorkbot including the ‘Waldflöte‘ MIDI-rigged pipe organ, a Jacob’s Ladder and the amazing Quadracopter – as well as some excellent music.

I’m seeing this as an installation at a science museum, in the classroom or an art gallery. There’s lots more still to do with it.

I decided to make sure the sliders control much the same things in different animations – though they each look very different, they are all built out of trigonometric functions, so we can think of them as the product of waves. The most basic properties of a wave are its amplitude (loudness, if we’re talking about sound); its frequency (the pitch of a sound) and the speed at which it travels. Though they do very different things with them, each of the animations I’ve rigged up with this can be seen in terms of the two sets of interacting waves, so we have a pair of sliders controlling their amplitudes, a pair for frequency and a pair for wave speed.

As I’ve written elsewhere, waves are absolutely fundamental to an enormous range of physical processes, as well as being great fun to animate. The universe is pretty much made out of waves, so wave speed, frequency and amplitude are three of the most basic and far-reaching concepts in physics.

Applets adapted to work with the control panel:


  • Tom Hardiment built the slider-box.
  • Martin Ling and Al Bennett helped out with the wiring and setting up the Arduino unit.

5 Responses to “It’s about control”

  1. dinah says:

    the applet plays half off screen to the right in Safari

    very interesting write-up, would love to see the beautiful object…

  2. Alex says:

    Same in Chrome (predictably)

    The first pattern I got in dragoria looked like a cock, er… !

  3. Fergus says:

    It should be okay in both Chrome and Safari now – let me know if I’m wrong and there are still problems! Thanks folks.

  4. igoumeninja says:

    Hi. Good work. I am also play with processing and arduino. Can you upload more technical characteristics for the controller?
    I have made this

    keep working

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