After deciding on using a butterfly module, I set about making prototypes of the butterfly itself. Modeling it after a Monarch, I used graphite paper to trace a photo onto a piece of black paper. I cut the form out twice, one side mirrored, with an X-Acto, and then used Modge Modge to put some orange vellum and white paper in between. The light quality of the vellum and the scale depict the Monarch pretty well. If we need too many multiples of the butterflies, we could laser cut the black paper, though handcutting isn't that bad.
I made two more butterflies and rendered better a silhouette for the piece. Not 100% sure what the electronic portion of the model will look like yet, I taped together little chipboard boxes to set the butterflies on. In our design, we will use nitinol wires attached to the wings. A memory wire, running a current through it will allow the wings to move as though flapping. The larger main component will likely have to sit on the shoulders, and wires can run through the chains connecting the butterflies. I then put together some aluminum chains to hold the butterflies together, though chain size may change. Also the box shouldn't be so tall, and will have to be made of a different material.
Crude top motion simulation of how the butterflies should open and close. Based off of monarch butterfly migrations, the piece should respond to messages concerning warmth and coldness as hibernation becomes necessary. Having the control be remote from the piece itself and the wearer creates a certain tension, though we may add more sensors for different butterflies to respond to.
Because we need a lot of butterflies, I lasercut the elements. We also added a section that goes down in the middle, in order to support the nitinol.
The prototype is missing the bottom black layer (I accidentally glued it to the table), but is interesting to compare to the initial, hand-cut version. My suitemates say the new version looks more realistic.
Last week, we just connected the butterflies with some simple aluminum links making a chain. This week, I looked at possible other materials that could be used to hold the form together. These include chainmail, textured brass, patina brass, box chain, and a 3D printed chain.
One thing I'd like to do is print a chain out of the fake-wood material, which I think visually and weight-wise would work well. Because it could be printed, the design could be played with and irregular and organic. The printed sample shown was taken from an existing generator on Thingiverse.
In furthering our concept, I drew inspiration from the Japanese folktale, The Dream of Akinosuke (readable here).
Akinosuke’s interactions as a butterfly, and the folklore concept of interactions with insects on the whole, can be related to contemporary relations of people with modern technology.
In one way, electronics and online interfaces allow us to communicate differently--to communicate as ourselves, but strangely, as the interfaces give us a different range of interactions to experience, and we experience others through their modified interfaces. Additionally, devices can be seen as manipulative, in the functions they give or take away and the forms of communication they dictate.
With a pulse sensor, one butterfly can communicate as an avatar of an element of the wearer, while the rest of the butterflies react to other stimuli and behave differently, indicative of a network of interactions.
After the critique, I lasercut some plain black butterflies in order to work on the silhouette. Finding the material fickle and fragile, however, I went back to my original idea of a net-like covering. I liked the play on the idea of a butterfly net, except with the butterflies outside and the person trapped within.
The mesh is made of freshwater pearls and gold-color wire. I chose the pearls because I find their shape evocative of coocoons, giving the piece a sort of eerie layer. I also started sewing some of the paper butterflies underneath the chain ensemble, giving it a lacy, shadowy undertone.
The design is finished, just awaiting the attachment of the batteries and arduino! Only three of the butterflies are made to move with the nitinol, however, and I'm concerned that even they won't. The copper tape keeps falling out of the butterflies, as well as the wires in place to connect the copper tape to the battery. There's probably a better way to make this part? Hopefully it will work out.
It took a bit of debugging to get the butterflies to work consistently. I ended up helping out with the project today, so I thought I would share the final schematic we used in the final design.
First, we used the following two documents as references:
The second link in particular was helpful in that it had an equation we used quite a bit:
Resistance (ohms) = [ Voltage (Power Supply) / Amps (wire spec) ] - Resistance of Wire
Instead of calculating the resistance based on the length of the wire and the wire spec, we simply measured it using a multimeter. This gave us an idea of how much resistance to add to the nitinol wire, which we adjusted using potentiometers. This was important because if there was too much current passing through the nitinol, it overheated and would melt some of the vellum on the butterfly wings.
Finally, we didn't add a pull-down resistor as shown in other schematics. We found this prevented the nitinol from being actuated for some reason. It was also really helpful to connect LEDs to the output pins of the Arduino to let us know when the pins were being set to HIGH.
You can see our final schematic above, and I've attached the final Arduino code below!
I'm attaching the files I used to lasercut the butterflies, in case anyone is interested in making some! I think I used Fabriano brand black and white paper (not that it really matters, as long as it's sort of thick but not overly so). I also used orange vellum for the middle, for the light quality. The lines in the wings could probably use a little thickening, as they break pretty easily.
Despite a few issues, such as the hardware functioning and finding a proper dress form to use for the show, everything was resolved and the piece was successfully displayed at the opening on Saturday. The opening was a bit small because of the snow storm, but another one is planned for Thursday.
Though this piece is done, I'm sure this is just the beginning of something new.