It is a strange sight, like a snapshot of an Olympic swimming competition taken from below. Five swimmers, frozen in position, pulse with life. A light from each swimmer’s heart beats and illuminates the swimmer briefly. As the heart’s light diminishes, a glow remains in the swimmer. Then you notice something odd. The swimmer’s hearts start to drift into sync until their hearts beat as one. And then slowly but surely, the beating of the hearts drifts apart.
If you were at the HopCat in Grand Rapids, MI earlier this fall, taking time to quaff your favorite brew while taking in the sights of ArtPrize, you would have seen this amazing sight. The exhibit “Swimmers” was created by Chris Murphy with a bit of help from Sector 67’s own Larry Walker. It is a fusion of art and technology that creates a memorable experience.
For “Swimmers”, Chris used the same medium he used in his exhibits “Girl On A Ledge” and “Hide and Seek” (http://www.myowndevices.org/). The form of each swimmer is crafted with a fiberglass casting tape that glows in the dark. To achieve natural shapes, Chris needed a laborious process, in which each cast took 30 minutes to set and several hours of trimming and gluing.
The glow of the swimmers is accomplished with beating electronic hearts studded with 30 LEDs each. As the LEDs are turned off, the swimmer’s form continues to glow. The beating of all hearts is controlled by a single Borduino (Arduino compatible) microcontroller. The Borduino directly drives a set of relays which in turn provide power to the LEDs of each heart. Part of the electronics challenge was finding relays that could be driven by the Borduino. According to Larry, the key software challenge was in creating the heartbeats. Since this is a work of art, it was not sufficient to just turn them on and off. Part of the effect is the way the hearts beat independently, then sync their beating, and drift apart again. A final part of the project’s challenge was putting it altogether, which was done for the first time when it was put on display at HopCat.
Though it didn’t win the grand prize, the reaction to “Swimmers” was very positive. If you would like to see the exhibit for yourself, it will be installed at the House of Brews on Helgesen Dr. in Madison in the near future.