|Start Date: 3/25/2018|
You can now see the cloud in action at Hive13! We first saw and admired a similar cloud art piece hanging at LVL1 in Louisville several years ago. Never being true innovators, but rather shameless copy cats, we finally got around to creating our own Hive13 version of this essential piece of MakerSpace infrastructure.
As now implemented at Hive13, The Cloud is an interactive, motion-detection, Arduino-controlled disco light experience that contains more than it seems on the inside. Making the cloud was a fun activity that involved a variety of steps and craft skills including dumpster diving, internet research, general wood working, hot-glue work, electronics, some internet orders, and numerous trips to Home Depot and Hobby Lobby.
Dumpster Diving the disco light ball
The heart of The Cloud is the disco light ball. This retro teenager's bedroom accessory from the 1970's was just too cool to pitch out in the trash. It plugs into a 110VAC wall outlet and features an internal incandescent light and a motor drive to rotate the black orb and project rotating multi-colored beams of light around the room as you rock-out to the Bee-Gee's staying alive.
Updating the disco light ball with motion-sensing Arduino electronics to bring it into the 21st century
Some improvements were deemed necessary to have the cloud reliably function autonomously on-demand at the Hive. We added an Arduino and a PIR (Pyroelectric ("Passive") InfraRed Sensor) to enable the cloud to detect movement. We then connected a relay board so the Arduino could toggle the 110VAC power to turn the ball on for a brief period of time and then turn off and wait for more motion to repeat the display. We switched the ball's internal C9 incancescent light to a similar-socketed LED light to decrease the heat and increase the longevity.
The PIR motion sensor is a beginner's-level, dirt-simple Arduino project. It is viewable at several sources on the web, but we like the easy-to-follow tutorials from our friends at AdaFruit.
We mounted the Arduino and Relay boards on stand-offs onto a small piece of plywood, used tie-wraps to hold the wall wart power supply on the back, and applied a little creative packaging, to cram it all into a Home Depot blue plastic outlet box. Here is what it looks like with everything opened up for maintenance.
We made a mounting for the PIR sensor that looks like this.
We did set-up the electronics by itself without the cloud in a corner of the shop for a few months to get a feel for the timing for the time on and delay off features until we were happy with it. It also gave us a chance to verify the overall reliability.
Here is the electrical schematic. Notice there is both (dangerous) 110 VAC wiring and (safer) 5VDC wiring in close proximity. Be safe!
The Arduino code is not here yet.
Building the Geodesic Dome
Based on casual observation from ground level, you can't really see the geodesic dome feature that is inside the cloud, but we know it is there. It was perhaps the most enjoyable and challenging part of the whole build. The dome is a necessary structural element and it surrounds the rotating disco ball to prevent the cloud from making physical contact. A Buckminster Fuller (wikipedia bio link) Geodesic Dome is a natural. Geodesic domes can be exceedingly detailed or incredibly simple. The varying levels of detail are called “tessellations”. The more tessellations you have, the smoother your dome is. As you go up in detail (from 2V, to 3V, 4V, 5V, or 6V) you decrease the strut length and increase the number of struts. Smoother domes have more hubs and struts. We did some internet research and found many sites that describe how to build a dome. We finally settled on this one as being the most helpful for our purposes.
We determined to make a 2V dome at 18" diameter using 1/4" diameter wood dowels. The calculator showed we'd need 35 struts that were each 5.56 inches long and 30 struts that were each 4.92 inches long. The calculated strut lengths are only the theoretical starting point. Actual lengths have to be adjusted to consider the hub and strut thicknesses.
We needed a systematic way to make hubs that would accommodate either 5 or 6 struts. As indicated in the following picture, we started by drilling out the end of each strut to glue in a short length of pipe cleaner. The young store clerk at Hobby Lobby called them 'Chenille Stems' instead of pipe cleaners. With a simple jig, we first glued-up individual pentagons. then combined the pentagons to make the full dome. The whole process was wickedly complex for a while, but imminently satisfying when it finally came together. The embedded and glued pipe cleaner hubs were surprisingly robust. It took repeated coats of glue from multiple angles at each hub to 'cold weld' smooth fillets of glue around each strut at each hub. The final dome was rock solid and we painted it black.
The finished dome was neat, but by itself, it was too much of a sphere and not random enough to be a cloud. After some amount of contemplation, it was determined to project longer tetrahedron type 3-strut pyramids out from the dome. Because of the dome structure, there were 10 of them in an alternating up-and-down pattern around the central dome. They increased the overall diameter and gave the internal structure some undulations. Here's another view that is a peek to see the internal structure that you don't get to appreciate from ground level.
Making the cloud for The Cloud
Determining how to make The Cloud look like a cloud took further deliberations. It had to be cloud-like, but still be translucent to allow the moving colored lights to shine through. While it looks like it is made from a bazillion cotton balls, the surface of the cloud is a miracle craft material from Hobby Lobby called "Cluster Stuff". My Mom was a fantastic sewer and quilter and Cluster Stuff was her favorite product for stuffing pillows, teddy bears, and quilts. We knew from the start that it would be in her honor and memory that we would use this resilient, hypoallergenic, premium polyester fiber fill made from recycled materials. How to support and attach the cluster stuff took some more thought and random wandering around Hobby Lobby till inspiration struck. We were looking for something like a cheese cloth and found the similar product, tulle fabric, which is what ballerina tutu skirts are made from. We used more pipe cleaners and gobs of hot glue to stretch the tulle across the internal structure and add blobs of cluster stuff everywhere around the outside. It is not immediately obvious, but there is a top layer and a bottom layer with a perimeter seam (like a clam shell). The inside is totally hollow and open. You have access to work your arms in between the outrigger struts to reach the middle of the dome if and when necessary to make adjustments. At this point, we finally got to see a fully working cloud.
Practical considerations in hanging The Cloud
The Cloud is suspended on three cables high overhead. There are practical considerations in putting a piece of working craft into such an inaccessible location and then being able to work on it when maintenance is necessary. The three lengths of suspension cables (500-lb test black parachute cord) are fastened to three eye-bolts attached in the overhead beams. They are each long enough to position the cloud low at waist level for maintenance when necessary. Each of the three suspension cable lengths also have a small carabiner clip strategically knotted at a mid-length location. It is easy enough to make three trips up-and-down the ladder to shorten each cable by hooking its carabiner clip into its eye-bolt and hang the cloud at operating height. The following photos show the sequence.
The Cloud is hanging from all three cables at operating height. The ladder is at the first cable location. The projector appears in front of the cloud in this view.
Cable one carabiner clip is unhooked. The Cloud is hanging from cables two and three at operating height. The ladder is at the second cable location.
Cables one and two carabiner clips are unhooked. The Cloud is hanging from just cable three at operating height. The ladder is at the cable three position.
All three cable carabiner clips are unhooked. The Cloud is hanging at its ground level maintenance position. All three cable carabiner clips are visible at mid-length. The power cord is shown attached to cable three. The Cloud can be quickly returned to operating height by rehooking the three carabiner clips at the three ladder locations.
Ta-da! You have to see it in real life to appreciate it fully, such as it is... Thank you for reading to this point. Now go forth and make something that is equally goofy for yourself.