Animism for FabLab designs

During the goodbye party that FabLab Kamkakura arranged for me at FabCafe, I pitched a future collaboration project inspired by the Japanese tradition of animism. Most Japanese believe that all things have a spirit, and as a result objects often are portrayed as living animals. Usually with the help of cute eyes, eyebrows and a mouth. My proposal is to develop a a set of animatronic eyes that can be clicked onto any kind of object made in a FabLab. A universal click mount system should make it easy to make a design compatible with the animism eyes. If a curious visitor to the FabLab wants to learn to learn more about a design, he needs only to attach the animism eyes to the dedicated connectors.

“Coding pins” of various lengths will to enable the designer to choose what kind of personality the the moving eyes and eyebrows will convey. Perhaps one pin for the eyebrow position, one pin for the focus point of the eyes. Another pin can set the general looking direction while another pin defines for the amount of looking around. And finally one pin for the level of random movement, useful for creating calm or nervous behaviour. This can in theory enable the designer of a FabLab object to convey the intention of a creation, or their mood at time of creation through the personality expressed by the mechanic eyes. So if successful, such eyes can not only provide entertainment, but help bridge the emotional motivations behind a creation with the everyday life of an object.

I worked out a quick live demo with the help of Grasshopper and Firefly. Next step will be to make a simple eye construction prototype with servo motors and perhaps an Arduino mini. The length of the mood pins can be read with the help of springloaded levers connected to potentiometers. It could also be interesting to make the eyes interactive by adding sensors like LDR’s and movement.

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