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Attachment – Balloon-Powered (In)direct Messaging Revisited

Re-designed and re-built at the Royal College of Art, and now fully automatic and ecofriendly, Attachment is a poetic machine conceived by Swiss designer David Colombini. The machine allows people to send digital messages, images, or videos into the air by attaching them to biodegradable balloons.

The idea began as David’s diploma project in Media and Interaction Design in Spring 2014 at ECAL (see CAN post). In October 2014, the project received support from the Migros Culture Percentage (Grant fund for Digital Culture) to develop the final object. In 2016, the machine was built in collaboration with designer Thomas Grogan and the help of Niklas Hagemann.

Attachment is a poetic project, a message in a bottle 2.0. Inspired by the rusty machines of Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely, the fully automatic poetic machine gives physical form to the digital messages you can send via the website. First, it engraves your message onto a thin piece of balsa wood that is connected by a string to a wooden clip. A balloon stock conveyor belt is then activated to place a balloon above a helium valve that automatically inflates it. Finally, a simple two-piece wooden clip seals the balloon, which is then released into the air where it will travel haphazardly to a random recipient.

The team have designed and made almost every part of the machine, including the custom produced wooden clips that are used to seal the large latex balloons. Only the small engraver (called Microslice), developed in a factory in Oxfordshire as a kickstarter product, was not made by the team. Every mechanism is driven by an Arduino Mega. The machine can either work fully automatically or each mechanism can be activated individually using toggle switches. By leaving the side open, the team also wanted to let people see inside the complex machine with its control box, hundred of wires, electronics components and various pneumatic valves and cylinders.

The machine is designed for a stock of 5 balloons, 5 messages and 5 wood clips. After having sent 5 messages in the air, the machine needs to be re-stock by a human – during exhibitions there are in general two persons monitoring this procedure. “We definitely enjoy the performative aspect of this project , enabling us to directly participate and witness human / machine interactions.” – David Colombini. During exhibitions, there is also an iPad which is fixed on the side of displays the queue of the messages in real time – the current one being engraved, the 5 previous ones sent, and the 5 incoming ones.

“I have always been attracted to what is in the air, and remember winning a balloon release contest when I was about ten years old. My small balloon flew from Switzerland to Austria. When I was 16 I also visited a cardboard factory in Switzerland where my uncle worked. There was something poetic and rhythmic in the huge automated productions machines i saw there. These two stories and the reading, more than 10 years later of “La société de l’anticipation” written by French writer Eric Sadin have inspired this project, which is a way to resist the current use of «smart» technologies. This poetic concept, using current technology allow us to communicate differently and rediscover the unexpected, the random, and the serendipitous. There is also the idea of connexion between people from different culture living far away from each others and the creation of random encounters thanks to the unexpected direction of wind.” – David Colombini

The project invites visitors to to upload a poetic message and attach an image or a video as they like. After validating your message a vvvv script will transform it to a G-code and stream it to the mini engraver included in their machine. Your name, your message (max. 120 characters is engraved, the rest can be discovered online), your email address and a generated code will then be engraved on a thin wood plate. A balloon stock conveyor belt is then activated to place a balloon above a helium valve that automatically inflates it. Finally, a simple two-piece wood clip (attached with a string to the wood plate) is been put together with the help of a pneumatic cylinder and seals the balloon. When the cylinder is retracted, your balloon is then released into the air. The balloon and your message will travel randomly until someone, somewhere might find it. If they do, they will connect to the same website, type the code (on: and discover your entire message and image or video (if you include one). If they decide to, they may send you an email back. They can also locate the balloon they found on their interactive map of all found balloons (

The balloons are made of biodegradable latex, while the message itself is engraved on a thin piece of balsa wood. Also developed was a simple two-piece wooden clip to seal the balloons. As the machine will primarily be installed outside, and they are aiming to make it fully solar-powered next year.

Software includes php / MySQL data base, vvvv (Take the message from Webdatabase, layout of the message, transform it and stream it to the engraver – thanks to Hayden Anyasi) and Arduino IDE (controlling all the mechanisms). Hardware includes Arduino Mega, Nema23 motors + drivers, Linear Actuators, Bambi Air Compressor 8L, Helium Cylinder, Festo Pneumatic components (Helium + air valves, Helium and Air pressure sensors, pneumatic cylinders, DHEB) and Microslice engraver (based on Arduino Uno).

Project PageDavid ColombiniThomas Grogan | Niklas Hagemann

Landed balloon near Munich, Germany

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