Arduino Takeoff – The Light Megaphone

Creating The Light Megaphone

One of the more exciting briefs we have been assigned, was the one day assignment that was going to engage us with different means of communication. The brief describes the scene from the movie The Martian where Matt Damon manages to communicate from Mars to NASA using hexadecimal values.

The first message from NASA to the Martian was:
48 4F 57 41 4C 49 56 45 – H O W A L I V E

The reason the brief highlighted this was because our mission was similar, we had to send an encoded message from out MA space all the way to the schools reception.(it is quite a distance). We were to work in small groups (communicating the message from one group to the next up until we reached the reception) and one of the rules of the brief was that it was mandatory to use an Arduino accompanied with a sensor and an actuator.

Now before I even go on and tell you how the process went for me, I personally feel like this was one of the most useful days for me, we need more workshops like these, infact they should be every week, Imagine how good one would be, solving a unique problem every week using interaction design techniques ? (this is the best way to learn the arduino)

I was grouped with Eva, Rico and Nidhi, people I had a lot of fun working with, I feel like there was a lot of effort put by everyone in the team and everyone proved more than useful. After consulting with Nicolas our first idea was to use a catapult that would send the encoded message to the next group in a post it note. Now we were aware that this was not necessarily the most creative way but we were interested in it because using an Arduino to make this catapult would really improve our maker skills. However we decided that even though it would be fun to do a catapult our primary research showed that we did not have enough time to pull it off.

We decided to take a simple (or so we thought) and efficient (a little bit tedious) approach to tackle this task. We decided to use light as a means of communication and with 4 light signals this is how it was supposed to work:

The light would constantly flash 26 times representing every letter of the alphabet, however it would turn red whenever the number count had reached the desired letter. For example, if we were to send the message D E F the light would go white 3 times (for a,b,c) then red 3 times (for d,e,f) and then the lights would turn green to signal that the message has been sent. The light would go off for 5 seconds to indicate that it had ran from A-Z and was about to start again.

So off we went to see Tom to see what materials we had at our disposal, initially we had a huge LED Flood Light but unfortunately there were no cables so instead we settled for a strip of Nano LEDs. We were also cautioned not to cut any of the LEDs as our project was too temporary and that would be a waste so we would have to use the LED strip as is.(it had about 60 LEDs) Equipped with an Arduino, a breadboard some wires and the LEDs we were ready to go however, we did not know how to connect to the LED as none of us knew how solder and Tom had to go for his lunch break. Lucky for us google was our friend and we figured it out and we felt so accomplished we took our lunch break.

We split the group into two, Rico and I worked on the programming and Nidhi and Eva worked on creating the Megaphone. The first step we took is getting one LED to work using the Arduino, then we attempted to change its colour. after this was successful we proceeded to do the same for the lest of the LEDs (around 60 in number). As Rico and I were trying to write the code to make it work like we intended it to, we realised we were running out of time and we had to simplify our project. Since we knew the message we decided to assign each colour to a letter so that we could spread the message much clearer and how this would work is, The colours would change every 3 seconds, note it down then refer to the key to see what letter each colour represents. Whenever the lights went off this would mean the message was complete and that in 5 seconds it was going to start again.

Nidhi and Eva using reflective paper and a white ballon created what looked like a light mega phone (or futuristic flowers to some) which we were able to wrap the nano led strip around , which in turn produced a lot of light which was good for us. The only challenge we had with this method is we did not have 26 colours, and some colours resembled others such as orange and brown.

On giving the group that was to receive our message the key, they got most of the colours correct but had an issue with the ones that resembled each other. So on their final message they were only a few letters off.

To conclude I would say the Light Megaphone was a good-straight forward tool, it had the aesthetics and communicated well over a long distance. If we had more time we would try to improve the quality of the colours so that they contrasted more from each other as well as a much better key to use to translate.

The team creating the physical object: The Light Megaphone

Working with the nano strip LEDs