Engage: Put Down Your Phone, Pick Up Conversation

Assignment,Project01,Submission — tdoyle @ 1:03 am

Without noticing, we interact with our phones all the time. Whether it’s a tweet mention, a text message, emails, or an app notification, we are constantly stepping out of the real world and into the digital world. In doing so, sometimes we lose meaningful interactions that we could have with the people that are actually around us. We see this in situations such as dinner where everyone pulls out their phone to fill time instead of sparking conversation. My goal was to create a device that encouraged us to unplug and engage with actual people instead of tweeting the day away.

The project specification was to take in something that usually goes unnoticed through a piezo speaker and then turn it into meaningful output. With two piezo microphones tapped to the top of the box, my device output a low hum from a piezo speaker and then took the sound back in on the other piezo (acting as a speaker). If there was a significant difference in the sound between the speaker and the microphone, then it registered the device being picked up or put down. It then responded by glowing the LED trip that wrapped the box.

I began by creating a crude proof of concept for this that was listening for a THUMP made by a phone when it was put down. By suggestion of the professors, I changed the detection scheme to focus on the changes of how the sound was carried through the object. For the physical form I wanted to keep it simple and unobtrusive. I laser cut black and opaque acrylic plastic and then glued the pieces together. Inside the box are two piezo speakers and an LED belt all wired into  a breadboard and then finally wired to an Arduino Uno. With the components connected, I wrote a fairly simple Arduino program that would first calibrate to the environment and then listened for changes in the low hum that was being produced and carried by the box. When a change was detected, I initiated a glow sequence on the LED belt.

Overall I was very happy with the end result and proud of my work! This was the first time I had done any hardware, Arduino, or audio processing. My head was spinning to take in all of the new information, but regardless of inexperience I was able to produce a polished piece. For further improvements, I would make the calibration code a bit more precise. Many times the box would seem to get “uncalibrated” and then act in random ways. Additionally, changing the lighting to be a bit softer would have fit with the project concept a bit more. Finally, the form of the box was a bit too big for my liking and made the object too obviously present to the people. A slimmer form could have achieved the project goal better. Without a doubt though, it was quite an achievement for me to get this thing working 🙂

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