An interactive LED wall installation for the Benedum Hall Makerspaces
Benedum Hall is the home of Pitt's Swanson School of Engineering, as well as home to the Pitt Makerspaces. The Makerspaces, rooms built for creativity, innovation, and community, are unfortunately located in the basement, a somewhat dark and drab floor of the building. In 2019, I created a piece of interactive wall art to brighten the floor, showcase the capabilities of the Makerspaces, and communicate a culture of innovation.
The process started with an in-depth research phase, consulting users and stakeholders, studying the space and environment, and considering the various use cases based on the location of the exhibit. I ideated and prototyped different types of interactions using varying inputs and outputs, and settled on a capacitive touch sensitive system with a matrix of programmable RGB LEDs. This allowed for me to make a flexible installation that would be intriguing and inviting both in passive and active environments.
I used an Arduino microcontroller to monitor the copper electrodes for changes in capacitance and to output patterns to the LEDs based on these changes. I coded multiple different programs into the Arduino to allow for varying levels of activity to account for the rapidly changing environment of a university building. The user interaction was designed to attract passerbys to the installation, prompt engagement, and spark interest.
The interactive is currently a working prototype of the full 30"x30" installation that will be hung in the main hallway of the basement level of Benedum Hall. I created a simple, adaptable code structure so that once installed, other students could create their own codes and programs to help the learning and the creativity continue.
This project was a great exercise in prototyping and rapid fabrication. I made many electronics prototypes with proximity sensors, capacitive touch, arcade buttons, and more to test the design and functionality and find which would best fit the project. This allowed me to optimize the user interaction experience as the project developed.
By using HI-MACS, a translucent white acrylic, I was able to create interesting effects with the LED display. When no LEDs were on, the piece looked like just a patterned wall with no hint of the engineering behind it. I incorporated this element of surprise into some of the programs to design an exciting and memorable user experience.
I followed an iterative design process by using laser cutting to fabricate multiple versions of mechanical features before incorporating it all into the final piece. The HI-MACS piece was laser etched to provide registration for the copper electrodes and LED contacts. A layer of laser cut MDF backed the HI-MACS to provide structure and organization for the control system behind the piece.