An interactive project about the Aral Sea made with Electric Paint and Makey Makey

Taking an environmental issue as inspiration for an interactive project.

Martin Wehl, an interactive designer, wanted to bring attention to the drying out of the Aral sea. So he collaborated with a few students from the University of Design Schwäbisch Gmünd to present this issue in an interactive way.

‘It would be great to raise awareness on what happened to the Aral sea, both the process of drying out, and the contamination of the environment since 1960 until now, due to the economic use of the water from the only two rivers that the lake provided.’

Martin tells us that the information system they were aiming for should work well in a museum or an exhibition. In order to communicate information through an interactive and playful experience, they decided to combine a hardware and software interface for their prototype.

The prototype consists of a 3-dimensional, topographic model of the Aral sea, a computer where the software is running and a touch-screen.

At this point, we suggest that you take a look at the video to get a better understanding of how the project works and the information you can get from interacting with it.

The information system provides the user with all the details in chronological order.

Starting in 1960, the user can see a complete model of the Aral sea, basically, the Aral sea in its original condition, completely full of water.

As the user removes the acrylic glass plates from the model, the software changes the information displayed on the touch-screen. For example. removing the top acrylic glass, which represented the state of the lake back in the 60s, would change to the state of the 70s. Thereby the user is able to change the digital display by changing the physical level of ”water” in the model.

For each decade, the team gathered information and summarised it into what they simply called ”Hotspots”. Those are the red spots the user can activate by touching on the display. These provide more detail about specific events that took part during each decade.

The model itself is built out of 6-millimetre poplar plywood plates, which were laser cut and glued together. The acrylic glass was 6mm and laser cut.

Into every layer of wood, they hand-carved two little channels for the hook-up wires, which connected the MakeyMakey board with the acrylic glass plates.

This is where Electric Paint came into play. There are two parts that they used the paint. Firstly, the paint was used to fill up the gaps in the channels where the hook-up wires were embedded, to ensure a clean and smooth surface on the top of the wood layer.

On every plate of wood, we can see now two contact points, one for the electrical grounding and one for the actual input.

They also used Electric Paint on the bottom side of the acrylic glass plates. They used masking tape to create a rectangle on which they then applied the paint. The rectangle closes the circuit between the two contact points mentioned above, whenever the acrylic glass plate was put in the model, it triggers the MakeyMakey board to release a signal to the computer.

This way, they created all necessary output signals.

In the images below you see the two contact points for the hook-up wires in the channels.

The following images show the rectangles they applied on the bottom sides of the acrylic glass plates.

The software was created using Framer Studio, which is a prototyping software based on the Javascript library Framer.js (Coffeescript), combined with a graphic user interface.

The team combined a code-based prototyping environment to process the output signals that were created by the MakeyMakey board, as well as all the visuals and graphics.

All the visuals, as well as the production data for the model/laser cutter, were created in Adobe Illustrator CC.

Images & Video: Martin Wehl

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