Arduino to Processing

12 03 2010

This week was spent figuring out how to bridge the analogue to the digital (from Arduino to Processing). In the video below I have hooked up the Arduino board to a potentiometer. The potentiometer could essentially be replaced by any analogue sensor (ie. motion sensor, IR sensor or heartrate monitor) to create a number string. The number string going into the computer was then interpreted by a sketch (program) I wrote in Processig to interpret visually into a moving linear graph. In theory I can replace this to play movie strings or random image generation. In this case, the line graph goes up and down as I turn the potentiometer dial clockwise and counter-clockwise.

A fork in the road…

3 03 2010

I’m currently working on solving the hardware part of this project.  I want to find a way to monitor a heart rate in the analogue world and get the readings turned into numbers that the digital world can then use. This number stream will be fed into Pure Data, Processing or Flash (with Action Scripts) to trigger projected moving images (hopefully self-generative via the heart rate).  Once I figure this out, I will try to find a way to get this to work within the handle of a suitcase!

OPTION 1: Polar Transmitter

After a few Arduino workshops I’ve come across a fork in the road. I’m experimenting with two possible ways to get the hardware to work (I welcome any further suggestions as neither of these are perfect). The first is through the use of a special Polar Heartrate Monitor Chip from Sparkfun (see older posts). The chip is used in conjunction with a Polar HR Transmitter (meant to be strapped on to the chest or wrists of avid athletes who are trying to maximize on their workouts). The problems with this set up is that I am not sure how to get the transmitter to work within a suitcase handle. Plus I’m still trying to work out a few compatibility bugs between the computer and the Sparkfun chip. Advantages are that there is a solid reciever built into the chip and once the system is set up, the number stream should be quite reliable and constant. I say ‘should’ as I haven’t yet tested this and being around this kind of thing long enough, I know that nothing is guaranteed. That’s why there is always work in IT support… someone remind me why I chose the route of poorly paid student/artist? I digress… The biggest advantage that I can see at the moment is that the setup will be wireless. I just feel a little hesitant about using the Polar transmitter to read a heart rate from fingers holding a suitcase. This may not be possible as this technology was meant to be against a very solid pulse (ie against the wrist or chest). Maybe there is a way to adjust the variables coming in to make it more sensitive.

OPTION 2: Infared LED and Photoresistor

My second option is to use an Infared (IR) LED in conjunction with an IR Photoresistor. Thinking being that when the viewer’s finger is placed in between the infared stream (from IR LED to IR Photoresistor) the IR light rays will receive different levels of interference depending on the pulsing blood flow in one’s finger. These different levels of interference can then be translated into a number stream that reflects the heartrate. Advantages to this route are that it’s a bit easier to setup and as a result I almost have this working. Although the setup is simple, getting an accurate reading is a bit touchy. One’s finger has to be right up against the LED and photoresistor. It is also a but fragile, so I’m not sure how this will work when incorporated within the handle of a suitcase. I know there are certain medical devices (finger clamps) which use the exact same technology, but this too is a bit cumbersome when attached to a handle. Another negative is that the setup is not wireless.

Example of a medical Clamp HR Monitor for finger or earlobe

A shift to Arduino

8 01 2010

Admittedly I haven’t been as diligent at blogging my creative process as I would have liked to be in this last month mainly due to: one the funeral that I had to fly back ‘home’ to (in Canada) and two the hectic Christmas/New Year holidays that I returned to in the UK. Things have been less than perfect these last few weeks but I’m slowly getting back in to the groove of things.

lenticular tv experiment

I feel it’s best that I record a few important shifts in the digital aspects of my project that are an outcome of the experimentation and research that I have been doing lately. I initially began this project wanting to create a series of works that incorporated animation (moving image) with my current visual aesthetic of digital collage and layering. Themes of dimensionality and ‘multi-layeredness’ became more prominent as I explored aspects of London’s Fil-Brit community both in the community itself and in my relation to the community as a Filipino-Canadian. This prompted me to exploit aspects of 3D Lenticular imaging to create vibrating, 3D pieces that held the illusion of visual depth. I aimed to use lenticular screens on top of computer screens to achieve this effect of dimensionality. Typically a lenticular screen is placed over a print that has been specially designed so that two images can be seen at once depending on the angle of the viewer (I am reminded of the Cracker Jack Box popcorn I used to eat as a kid that would include a lenticular decal of the most popular superheroes at the time).  I was even able to source a project that involved utilizing this technology on televisions:,39029456,39189996,00.htm

But in the end I decided to drop this line of exploration as I found the two image limitation of the lenticular screen to be constricting. Furthermore on a purely aesthetic level, I felt the visuals created by such a process had a very kitsch look and by it’s nature inadvertently  referred to a time and context (cheap commercial promotional materials from the 1940s up to 1980) that were not relevant to my current project.

Deumilanove mini-computer

Sometime after that was spent trying out different creative possibilities, some of which included the use of Processing to alter images on webcams but I found myself hitting a eureka moment sometime in late October when I was first introduced to Arduino. I was in the middle of an Arduino workshop where we were trying figure out the wiring and code to setup a potentionmeter on our breadboards (basically we were trying to make a little LED blink at different speeds according to the turning of a small dial) and I found myself mentally wandering due to the hypnotic nature of the pulsing red light I was so desperately trying to control. My mind went on tangents of how figuring out this little red light was a sort of microcosm to all the frustrations I’d been having with my project so far in trying to pin down the Filipino community and trying to find a way to best represent its fluidity digitally. It became a question of finding patterns, commonalities and themes. I found myself thinking of home. How eventhough I was well aware things would be very different in the UK, I was still working through cultural presumptions that I took with me from Canada thinking that living in an English speaking country would be easy compared to my previous years and months in Japan, France and Thailand. The emotions and memories that these thoughts brought up reminded me of how home means something different for everyone. There is a reason why some Fil-Brits still call the Philippines ‘home’ , while others think of the UK as ‘home’. Home is Canada for me right now, but the longer I stay here, UK may one day feel like home too. After three years of living in Tokyo, I began to feel Japan was my home despite myself.

Please see my Japan blog:

Where is home for the Filipinos who just immigrated to London and how does this differ from those who were born here? How does a community of people who are in between ‘homes’ manifest itself visually on the urban landscape. How can I best represent this flux of attachment and detachment to memories, culture and identity?

Polar Heart Rate Monitor Interface

My aim now has been to use this technology to incorporate the viewer’s heart rate as a trigger that sets off a moving collage of images that mean home for Filipinos in London. I was able to acquire the needed technology (an Arduino Duemilanove 328 and a polar heart rate monitor interface) from a specialized electronics shop in Toronto called Creatron ( and from This process of looking for the hardware has informed me of a large number of communities both online and in the physical sense that are really pushing this Arduino stuff. Hopefully connecting with these communities will prove to be helpful to this project as I am certain I am not the only one who has though of this idea.

That said, much of my time is still spent playing with wires, resistors and code. On the code end, I am currently trying to get the data from the heart rate monitor to talk with a image manipulator program such as Flash or through a sketch I make in Processing. On the wires and resistors end, I am desparately trying not to leave huge amounts of hazardous mess that looks tantalizingly edible for both my cat and my 11 month old!