RaspberryPi.org posted about this awesome project from artists Neil Mendoza ad Anthony Goh.
Mobile phones are ubiquitous in today’s society, but often their use has unintended consequences, intruding into and changing social situations, distancing people in in real life by dragging them into the digital world. They are also a massive source of electronic waste. A few years ago this inspired Anthony Goh and me (Neil Mendoza) to create an installation that takes cast-off devices and suggests an alternate reality in which these unwanted phones and noises become something beautiful, giving them a new life by creating an experience that people can share together in person. The Barbican recently asked commissioned us to create a new flock of birds for their awesome Digital Revolution exhibition. Here’s a little tech breakdown of how they work.
In previous versions, the birds were independent, but this time we decided to have a Raspberry Pi at the heart of the installation controlling them all. This gave us the most flexibility to animate them independently or choreographed them together.
The exhibition is travelling so we wanted the installation to be as easy to set up as possible to so we decided to make each bird talk to the Raspberry Pi over ethernet. This means that communications are reliable over long distances and each bird is self-contained and only needs a power and data cable connected to it.
The next challenge to overcome was to figure out how to call a bird. In previous incarnations, each bird included a functioning mobile phone that you could call. However, as there is no reception in the gallery, we decided to include a different era of phone junk and make people call the birds with a rotary phone from the 1940s. The system looks something like this…
To make the phone feel phoney, the receiver is connected to a serial mp3 player, controlled by an Arduino that plays the appropriate audio depending on the state of the installation, e.g. dialling tone, bird song etc. The Arduino also reads numbers that from the rotary dial and if one of the birds’ numbers is dialled it sends it over ethernet to the Raspberry Pi.
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