Illuminate

My name is Amanda Vuocolo and I am a recent graduate of The College of New Jersey with a degree in Interactive Multimedia. I am mostly interested in interactive and environment design with physical computing using Arduino, but I also enjoy video production, graphic design, and marketing.

Students using Illuminate

My senior thesis project is called Illuminate. It is an interactive installation that responds to touch. When I installed Illuminate, there were eight hanging lights which started out as different colors. Each light changes its own color and the colors of the adjacent lights. The idea of this is to change lights until they are all the same color.

This whole process is controlled by an Arduino Mega (a microcontroller that is common in physical computing projects), a capacitive touch breakout board sensor, and copper tape. When the copper tape is touched, the touch sensor signals the touched state to the Arduino. Then, the Arduino changes the light color.

I installed Illuminate for the 2016 IMM Senior Showcase. During the showcase, the senior Interactive Multimedia students showed off their final projects. These projects were as varied as the IMM curriculum; video, animation, mobile apps, virtual reality, physical computing, design, and web were all represented.

I wanted to create a senior project that was interactive and driven by human behavior. Too often, people are told that they cannot touch or interact with big art installations. My project exists so that people may become part of the piece.

I learned so much from this project. Most of what I learned came from everything that went wrong. Trust me — a lot went wrong. I chose to develop Illuminate because I wanted to learn how to use Arduino. I had no experience with physical computing before I took on this project. As a result, the first half of development was full of confusion and mistakes. Little by little, I learned by taking on small projects to prepare me for the big installation.

Once I had more experience, I started development. First, I faced complications with the trigger for changing colors. I knew from the beginning that I wanted the action of touching to activate the color changing. I experimented with tilt sensors, an accelerometer, and a piezo before I settled on copper foil tape and the capacitive touch sensor. Later on, I struggled with programming the color changing. I also did not have enough pins on my Arduino Uno and I had to order a brand new Arduino Mega to replace it. Perhaps the most stressful part of the project was the installation itself — installing a hanging project on a drop ceiling requires a lot of creativity.

I hope that future seniors can learn from what I struggled with. If I could travel back to last September and give myself advice, here’s what I would say:

1. Don’t stress out when things don’t go according to your plans.

There were a lot of things that I wanted to do with this project that didn’t make it to the final installation. There is never enough time or installation space and that’s OK. Be flexible, ask questions, and be open to suggestions because often, other people have beautiful, innovative solutions that can make your project better.

2. Practice consistently.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is that consistency and routine help you improve. It certainly helped me learn how to use Arduino. The romantic notion that inspiration will strike randomly is a myth, at least for me. I am most productive between 9pm and 2am, and while this is not conducive to a normal lifestyle, I made the most progress during these times.

3. Don’t procrastinate.

I give this advice to everyone but never take it myself. If you have everything functioning properly before the night of the showcase, it will save you a lot of stress. If I hadn’t procrastinated, I would have been able to add sound, fix one of the lights that was not functioning properly, and make the wiring look more professional. However, if you do procrastinate, do some all-nighters, stock up on coffee, and refer to point 1.