Case Study 01
21st Century Orrery
digital fabrication | physical computing
How might we combine the innovations of the three industrial revolutions into one design?
Circuit & Code
The Machine Revolution
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.
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.
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.
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.
- While I did not end up fully realising this project, I am very happy with the end result. The design works both visually and technically, but suffers from being a school project with a very tight deadline.
- The intricate detail is what makes this design visually successful. Many physical computing projects are technically impressive, but have little thought given to the form.
- This project was a big lesson for me in how motion can elevate a design. As the video above shows, the orrery is really defined by how interesting the movement is to the viewer.
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