Protospace was asked to create a Tree Topper for the East Village Christmas Tree. We had only a couple of weeks to come up with something awesome, geeky and cool that would represent Protospace, but at the same time would be suitable for East Village’s modern architecture and urbanite vibe. My idea of making a Tesseract or Hypercube came from a tiny obsession with this “impossible” 4-dimensional shape and the concept that it encompasses. The Tesseract is a 3D projection of a shape that we cannot see because of our dimensional limitations.
We brainstormed about the best material to use for making a Tesseract, we wanted it to be lit on its vertices and thus required something that would hold an LED and was sturdy enough to hold strong winds & cold temperatures. We figured acrylic was probably the best material we could use, it was relatively inexpensive and easy to shape.
We got acrylic rods and cut them into 24 segments of different lengths. The edges were held by acrylic triangles that would not only support all 16 vertices, but it would let light go through making it more homogeneous in colour and shape.
With the help of Travis, we created jigs that allowed us to repeat the fabrication with precision and accuracy. Without these, it would’ve taken us twice as long to glue the pieces together.
The rods were originally transparent. We had to sand them one by one so it would act as a light diffuser for the LED. Shining light through a transparent rod acts as fibre optic; doing through diffused material lights up the entire segment.
The inner cube was made first. It was easier for us to work with smaller segments first. Admittedly, neither Kirk nor I had ever done anything like these or worked with these materials. The acrylic segments were glued with Methylene Chloride, a compound that’s commonly used as a solvent. It reacts with the acrylic by ‘melting’ both pieces and once it cures, it creates a solid one-piece bond between segments. This meant that we only had ONE shot at getting it right.
Both cubes were going to be holding 64 LEDs of 4 different colours. This required us to measure the length of wire for each of the vertices as well as some soldering, wire stripping, heat shrinking and wire wrapping. The project box that held the circuit, controller and LEDs was TINY and had to be divided in three parts. We had to use extra thin wire to optimize space and we ended up with a VERY cramped but secure project box.
I got a better camera for these last photos, can you tell? Each of the rods were drilled on both edges so the LEDs would fit and shine through.
Big cube and little cube!
While I figured out the placement and wiring on the cubes, Kirk did the whole electronic component. He bread-boarded the prototype that controlled the blinking of the lights and its cycles by using a little Ardweeny as controller, NPN transistors, and resistor networks for all 64 LEDs.
Kirk soldering of the prototype onto a copper board
We were faced with a challenge when we tried to hold both cubes together. The inner cube had to be in the center of the outer cube and held by eight diagonals. The challenge came when we tried to adjust these steadily without compromising the structure of both cubes. We used nylon rope inserted through a clear tube and bolts to hold it in place.
Ben’s quality approval
The next step was to add the project box, yet another challenge for Kirk, who was left with 128 white wires and little to no space in the project box.
We hacked the project box by drilling two holes on each side, used a funky little connector that shuts down like the aperture in a camera and holds things in place. It was 5AM in the morning when I took this photo and we still had to wire-wrap each LED to the connector!
We finished this at home in a more comfy chair and better heating. I wire-wrapped the LEDs and Kirk did the final touches on the controller, the jumpers and the AC connector.
We had to make sure it worked before sealing everything in the project box with super strong silicon. We turned off the lights and crossed our fingers for it to work!
YAY!!!1!!11 it worked! We looked at it for some good ten minutes remembering all the challenges, sleepless nights, people that helped us along the way and realized we had DONE IT. A crazy concept done from scratch beginning to end. A first for both of us, a photographer and programmer. It was definitely an emotional moment.
The next day, the Tesseract was delivered to East Village for their Christmas Tree. Kirk had the honor of putting it up himself and made sure everything was in place before plugging it up.
We came back at night to see it shining (and to make sure everything was good) It was a really cold night but the Tesseract was intact.
THANK YOU! To all the people at Protospace that helped us create this amazing artifact. Kirk and I couldn’t have done it without the help and expertise of Travis Alexander, Andy Io, Ben Reed, Dana Schloss, Shannon Hoover & Maria Elena Hoover.
Never miss an opportunity for some colourful bokeh.
On Saturday, East Village held a market with all sorts of small businesses and organizations alike. Protospace was there selling electronic goodies and showing some of their automated machines.
The famous eggbot!
3D Printer and drinkbot
People were really drawn to the Egg-bot.