Case Study 01

21st Century Orrery

digital fabrication | physical computing

How might we combine the innovations of the three industrial revolutions into one design?

Photography: Emily Fulkerson


Daniel Churchill


December 2018
3 Weeks


Project Management
3D Modeling
Visual Design
Circuit & Code


Rhino 5
Adobe Illustrator
RhinoGears Plugin

Shortcut to the final design


With this design I challenged myself to design something that uses specific elements from each of humanities three industrial revolutions. The process sections of this case study are each made possible by the innovations of a different revolution in technology, and they build off of each other just as the revolutions did.

When we talk about the Industrial Revolution, the image that often comes to mind is factories and smog. The Industrial Revolution of the 18-19th centuries also brought a lot of beauty as we moved into the modern age. Since that revolution, our speciecs has actually undergone two more. These revolutions are less discussed, at least in the context of being an 'industrial revolution,' but they are equally as important and game changing as the original.

The Machine Revolution

Visual Aesthetic

The form of this design is heavily influenced by  19th century model planetary systems called orreries. Brass Victorian orreries lack the minimalist grace of technology today, yet despite this they are incredibly enchanting. Complicated gear systems are usually fully exposed, allowing some understanding of the machines that power the motion. They are often engraved with star charts, or placed on top of ornate bases. All of the main visual elements of a Victorian orrery are recreated in this design.


At its core this project uses a gear system to demonstrate prograde motion. Simple gear systems are a surprisingly powerful tool for creating engaging motion in 3D designs. They are able to take one type of movement, in this case the continuous rotation of a motor, and change it into something different. The first prototype for the orrery supported the central gear incorrectly. In order to get it to function a second dowel was affixed to hold the central gear in place. The necessary additional support got incorporated into the final design by using a set of four ornate columns that run parallel to the central dowel. The columns themselves are based on Victorian era architecture.

The Digital Revolution

The Circuit

Unlike the 19th century Orreries that inspire the visual design, this orrery is powered by physical computing. Arduino acts as the central hub of this circuit, powering a continuous Servo motor to turn the central dowel.

Reaching the digital stage in the fabrication process also presented a second structural change, this time to the base of the model. After the circuit was placed into the housing unit (the round base of the model) it became clear that there was an unnecessary amount of space for the Arduino components. The planets were made out of light-weight Styrofoam balls and the circuit itself weighed down the base, so there was little chance of the design toppling over. This allowed the use of a slimmer base for the final design which draws less attention from the motion.
As the images display, the circuit was powered by 4 AA batteries. This was a mistake! The batteries fed too much power into the Arduino, overloading the microcontroller. While the motion worked for a while, eventually the Arduino browned out. This design flaw could be fixed by feeding the batteries into a regulator on the breadboard before putting it into the Arduino's VIN pin.

The Internet Revolution

While this project did use many internet resources like the RhinoGears plugin and online tutorials, the real part of the project based on this revolution was never completed due to time constraints. This section documents the next steps that need to be taken to make the project full realized.

Moon Positioning

The next step for this project is to have the model Moon's position reflect the real Moon's current position in orbit. In order to do this, data would be taken from the JavaScript library Suncalc. Suncalc allows users to draw on data about the Sun and the Moons current position, amoung other information. The library would be used to call on the getMoonPosition function for as long as the circuit is open.

Using p5.serialserver, the data would be simplified and fed into the Arduino as a number between 0 and 360. The standard Servo motor used in this design would be swapped out for a more sophisticated DC motor and a breakout board allowing for more precise control over the position.

Final Design


The mobile version of my portfolio is under development. If you've only got your phone, you can see a sample of my work on my instagram account @daniel.b.designing.