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Spirotrope – Stirling Engine powered Spirograph animation

Created by Witaya Junma. ‘Spirotrope’ is a device developed from the hypothesis that an interactive artwork can be created from unrelated objects in a way such that each object is still visible in its essence, whether in its form or its function. The criteria is that the viewer must experience this by interacting with the artwork directly.

Oftentimes new creations are born from combining unrelated concepts and objects; things from various periods of time. When these objects are put together, a new meaning is created. The objects evolve to form a new meaning of its own, with its own role and its own significance.

The artwork may break the concept of time physically and conceptually; through the experience of interacting and forming perceptions within the participant himself or herself. These perceptions become another dimension to the work even though the participants and the work have never had any relations.

Spirotrope design is created by combining three different creations: Stirling Engine (1816), an engine which generates heat energy from external combustion; Spirograph (1965), a geometric drawing toy, originally created to prevent bank note forgeries and an Arduino (2003), a micro controller, a simple computer created to give the general public access to computing

Spirotrope creates motion graphics from lines drawn using the Spirograph, together with the image persistence technique. The technique uses a strobe light to shine a momentary bright light in intervals so that a stationary object appears to move. The frequency of the strobe light and the Spirograph patterns drawn with different sizes of gears create various different motions. In technical terms, it is the Frame Rate that determines the speed and the direction of rotation of the motion whether fast, slow, forward or backwards, depending on how many times the light flashes per second. The electrical energy from the motor and the spinning mechanics on the artwork is generated using the Stirling Engine which uses methyl alcohol as a fuel for combustion.

The artwork asks the participant to create drawings using a Spirograph on a white circular piece of paper. Various sizes of Spirographs can be used, so the drawings vary. Participants can draw using the spirographs and choose colours as they please.

Afterwards, the participant can place his or her drawing onto the artwork where marked, and start the Stirling engine by lighting it with methyl alcohol. Once the engine starts up, it will generate electricity and spin the drawing. The strobe light will then follow the process to make the drawing animate. Participates can experiment with turning the Potentiometer on the artwork to view the animated drawing in faster speed, slower speed, or still, to experience a visual illusion and a sense of being able to bend time.

Stirling engine is a heat engine that operates by expansion of hot air, which is created by an alcohol burner in this work. The engine does two jobs: it turns the wheel by giving power to the belt and generate AC currents by spinning the generators. The currents are then converted to DC by a 1N4001 Diode and fed into a set of capacitors, which stabilize the currents before powering up the Arduino board. The board controls the frequency of LEDs, which can be controlled by turning the B10K potentiometer. The blinking LED creates the illusion of moving patterns from a rapid succession of static images.

Hardware used includes a Stirling engine, Arduino, Spirograph, Motor 12 DC, LED 3V, B10K, Capacitor 470uf 16v, Diode 1N4001, TIP 31 and Round Belts. Software: Arduino

Project PageWitaya Junma

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