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How to create interactive surfaces with Electric Paint

The future is in smart homes and buildings – from smart walls and tables to interactive calendars.

While looking for creative projects using our technology, we bumped into this interactive Zodiac Wheel. At first, it looks like a smart wall clock but as we soon found out, there is more to it than meets the eye.

We were very curious to find out more about it and its design. We caught up with Interactive Designer, Olivia Greco, who explains below the idea behind the project and how they built it.

Olivia and her team completed this project as a midterm skills assessment, in a Physical Computing class at School of Visual Arts. They are all Interaction Design MFA students, so the emphasis for this project, in addition to creating an object that incorporated basic circuit building, sensor data/computing element, was to create a beautiful and charming interaction.

They started with researching creative coding projects and were inspired by Bare Conductive Electric Paint. They loved the versatility of the paint and the endless possibilities of what they could create. 

Their early idea was to create a calendar where the user could touch a day of the week to view the events for that date. They decided to simplify this idea, but keep a similar interaction. Instead of something as personal and detailed as a calendar, they created a piece that could be hung in a more public space and that would be applicable to a wider audience: a display of the twelve zodiac signs that display the user’s horoscope. 

To begin constructing their product, they started by testing the paint on thick watercolour paper so they could gauge the amount of paint they would need to create a properly functioning circuit. They built a simple capacitive proximity sensor with the conductive ink (see image below), a resistor and the Arduino.

Next, they experimented with processing the code to display different text on the screen when different sensors are pressed. The various colours would become different horoscope texts displayed when different sensors (made using capacitive paint) are pressed. 

They decided wood was the best material to construct this piece, as its final setting would be mounted on a wall in a public space. They painted twelve circles in a clock-like format around the perimeter of the wood using Electric Paint. Each of the 12 circles would represent a different zodiac sign.

Initially, the team wanted to paint the zodiac signs onto each circle in a bright acrylic, maybe cyan or white. But after some testing, they decided to project the signs onto the paint for a more unique effect and versatility in future use.

To be able to create sturdy and reliable wiring, they inserted nails in the middle of each circle, painted over the nail with the conductive ink and then soldered a wire to the nail sticking out of the back of the wheel to connect to the Arduino and breadboard. Olivia says that they ran into challenges constructing the piece, as they originally intended to simply thread the wire through the holes drilled in the middle of each circle, but it was messy.

The solution of nailing a flat nail into the centre of each circle, painting over the nail with the conductive ink to make a black circle, and then soldering a wire to the nail sticking out of the back of the wheel was a much cleaner solution.

They then connected the circuit and tested the communication with processing. After that, they also mounted the Arduino and breadboard on to the back of the piece and drilled two holes to insert mounting hooks so they could hang the piece on a wall. To pull everything together, they used a projector to project the zodiac signs onto each circle. 

What if the zodiac wheel could become a regular clock? What else could the 12 circles be adapted into? After testing with the projector, they also thought that the projected symbols were really beautiful and charming — maybe more so than painted zodiac symbols might have been. They also glowed a bit brighter than light acrylic paint might have dried on top of the black conductive ink. 

Olivia told us that right now, the zodiac wheel only pulls one hardcoded horoscope reading when the user touches their sign. But their idea is to configure an Astrology/Horoscope API to pull daily or monthly horoscope readings.

Images & Video: Olivia Greco, Chi-Ching Tsai, Jiya Seo and Kaitlin Carano

If you’d like to see your project on our blog, email us at: info@bareconductive.com

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