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F21Thread – A display made of 6,400 spools of thread

A 2,000 lb machine that uses 6,400 mechanical spools of thread to display Instagrams is the latest project by NY based collaborative BREAKFAST. The team are streaming live online 24 hours a day from July 22-28th, and users receive an auto-edited video of their Instagrams being displayed on the screen. The project is a celebration of Forever 21’s back-to-school Tried and True campaign.

The structure of the machine is made from aluminium with 32 channel stepper motor driver PCBs with optical homing sensors. Fabric ribbons have small retroreflective strip for homing on optical sensor driven by 6400 bipolar stepper motors. Injection molded ABS module chassis holds the wooden spools and the drivetrain uses brass and acetal gears, silicone coated molded acetal driveshafts. Each stepper is limited to around 180 – 200mA @ 12V. So worst case when all motors are moving at the same time, the team are peaking at 1,280 Amps at 12 volt or 15kW just for the motors.

When it comes to software, a custom made webserver is pulling images from Instagram for certain hashtags, queuing them up and sending to the render server software which calculates best visual representation for the image based on available colors on the fabric. The team then sends out commands to the motor socontrollers over 10 RS485 buses (20 modules per bus) and a picture or animation appears. The software includes ruby, nodejs, firmware written in c and c++, bash, linux, webgl, ffmpeg and a sql database.