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Brain, wider than the sky

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We had been quite busy in the last months, due to the deployment of 13 interactive installations for the Brain exhibition in Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, and also the construction of a massive neuron sculpture. This project occupied all of our team members, and we had to change the configuration of all the rooms in our headquarters to be able to develop, test and assemble everything.

These are just some sneak pics of our workshop, with bars assembled on the roof to hold the neuron sculpture.

This was a long journey, let me start by the neuron sculpture. This sculpture should be big, attract visitors attention, create space for curiosity and debate.

Eric da Costa, the mastermind behind this piece, did an in-depth research around many types of neurons, their behaviour and characteristics. A big sculpture needs light, and also needs to be interactive. For the lights, there were different needs, through the different parts of the neuron.

I will try to describe the neuron anatomy. Bear in mind that I am not a neuroscientist, so if any information does not match science facts, sorry about that.

Let’s start with the dendrites, they are the branches that connect to other neurons.

These branches “charge” the neuron nucleus, we call it “the core”. It gathers energy until a certain point, when this point is reached it triggers a spike that fires up the axon.

This spike goes through the axon until the terminals.

These terminals connect to the next neuron.

Eric designed the whole piece in 3D, planned how each section should be sculpted, assembled, illuminated, transported and deployed. Eric also sculpted the whole piece, while João Ribeiro and José Pedro aka ‘Coias’, did a masterwork with fiber glass, assembly, transportation and deployment.

This sculpture deserves a dedicated post, there is so much more to show and tell.

The neuron has 4 different types of light.

The dendrites are filled with optical fibers and are driven by these DMX controllers, on total we have 6 of these controllers.

The core has a 3D printed sphere, filled with addressable LED strips.

Soldering the strips.

Tarquinio Mota developed these PCBs to drive LED strips through DMX.

The large dendrites are filled with large optical fibers. For these type of fibers, Tarquinio Mota developed another set of PCBs to handle high current LEDs.

Large optical fibers.

The terminals are meant to flicker. For this, we are using adafruit LED matrix open source PCB, but we asked our supplier to use cold, warm, amber LEDS, instead of the normal red, green and blue.

Each of these fibers went through one by one. In total, we are using two sets of 6 LED matrices.

Testing randomness and different patterns.

Overall, the neuron is filled with optical fibers, adding up to a total of 32 kilometres.

Transportation was another challenge, it was separated in several different branches and parts, and carried through Gulbenkian’s garden by hand.

Every optical fiber had a specific role, here Tarquinio is programming the whole piece. There is also an interaction side, where we are detecting persons near the dendrites, and each person movement triggers nearby dendrite spikes. The detection is made in the Bonsai Framework, using 5 cameras for the motion detection. Big thanks to Gonçalo Lopes and João Frazão for the great help!

Beside this interactive sculpture, we deployed 13 interactive installations, some more complex than others. Filipe Barbosa, Ricardo Imperial, Tarquínio Mota and André Almeida were the guys that made all these applications possible.

We need to give other big thanks to our friend David Palma, he helped us rigging computers, routing cables, setting up computer settings, troubleshooting electronics and so much more. I don’t have enough words to thank you David!!

In the end, everything is working in full, but we couldn’t end this post without mentioning one major mistake we have made. The credits are all messed up, and with so many installations and details to manage, we totally missed this non-less important thing.

Let me walk through every task each team member has made:

André Almeida
Project leader
Interaction design
Software development
Neuron Sculpture detection and interaction

David Palma
Computer Rigging
Electronics
General Setup

Eric da Costa
Neuron Sculpture project leader
Neuron Sculpture vision, concept, sculpture

Filipe Barbosa
Interactive applications art direction
3D Models
UI design
Brain Orchestra Sound design
Neuron Sculpture Sound design

Gonçalo Lopes NeuroGears
Time to Action Author Software development
Project Advisor

Guilherme Martins
Light equipment design and assembly
Neuron sculpture interactive sound software
Brain orchestra software developer

João Ribeiro
Neuron Sculpture fiber glass
Neuron Sculpture assembly

João Frazão NeuroGears
Neuron Sculpture detection software
Project Advisor

José Pedro Sousa
Neuron Sculpture fiber glass
Neuron Sculpture assembly

Ricardo Imperial
Interactive applications Software developer

Tarquínio Mota
Neuron Sculpture software development
Neuron Sculpture light/electronics development
Interactive applications software development

Acknowledgements:
Leonel Caldeira
David Palma
João Frazão

Post author:
Guilherme Martins

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Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

Lorem Ipsum is simply dummy text of the printing and typesetting industry. Lorem Ipsum has been the industry's standard dummy text ever since the 1500s, when an unknown printer took a galley of type and scrambled it to make a type specimen book. It has survived not only five centuries, but also the leap into electronic typesetting, remaining essentially unchanged. It was popularised in the 1960s with the release of Letraset sheets containing Lorem Ipsum passages, and more recently with desktop publishing software like Aldus PageMaker including versions of Lorem Ipsum.

Apr 29, 2019

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