Sketching with Hardware 1/5: AmbiLEON

In March, we celebrated the 5th anniversary of our workshop „Sketching with Hardware“. In 7 days, 12 students learnt to use electronic components, to create new creative user interactions and realized their own physical computing projects. The overarching topic for this course was  „Bionics“. Again, at the final presentation the crowd had the chance to experience five extraordinary experience prototypes. During the following days, all projects will be presented on this blog. Today: Part 1, the AmbiLEON!

by Frederick Himperlich und Tanja Neumeyer


What is it?

When you look at the chameleon in the picture, you see an animal climbing a tree having a green body and a red head.
If it’s trying to hide itself, it definitely failed!

During our research in bionics we learned about chameleons that they use their ability to change color not only for hiding but as a reaction to their surroundings. We were ecstatic about this fact and wanted to use this in our project.

Group Ambileon 1

Changing colors is the essential thing about our AmbiLEON-Prototype. Our idea was to develop a kind of lamp which creates ambient light in not static or random colors but in colors which express certain states or happenings.

How does it work?

When we began to build AmbiLEON, we knew the most important things were the RGB-LED-lights.

To create a random color with a RGB-LED you need 1 digital output for every color so three outputs for one LED-Strip. Since we wanted to use many LED lights, more than the ArduinoUNO could handle, we decided to use the Arduino Mega with a total of 14 PWM digital outputs Since the LED-Strips need a 12 V power supply we used transistors to control the 12V LEDs with the 5V digital output.

Now the base was given to let AmbiLEON change its color. The most important ability of our prototype was camouflage. To make that possible we needed the Ambileon to “see” its surroundings. For that we added a Camera to the Ambileon and wrote a little C# app that did the capturing. The captured camera pictures are separated in four columns (one column for each LED-strip), for each coloumn the average color is calculated and send back over serial port to the ArduinoMEGA which changes each LED-strip’s color accordingly.

The Ambileon
Image 1: Camouflage mode

After developing the camouflage mode we went for the case. Our idea was to create something animal-like which reminds of a reptile. So we designed the “rips” for the insides in scale shape and four semicircular pieces which should serve as stage where we could stick the LED-strips to. We designed the main rips to hold the camera, we adopted the form of the camera to fit it exactly into the rips. All pieces look like an arc to provide a way for the cables inside the skeleton. To fix the rips and semicircles we also made a board where we simply fitted the rips into trenches of the same length.

Group Ambileon 2
Image 2: Designing the case

The material we used was acrylic glass cut by a laser cutter according to our design made with Adobe Illustrator.

Ambileon Case
Image 3: final case

Since there was some time left we decided to develop two additional modes for our AmbiLEON to show the versatility of chameleons. So the second ability AmbiLEON should have was a temperature mode. We added a temperature sensor which captures raw analog values. These values are mapped to the Celsius scale.***with the code, formula) AmbiLEON changes its color in steps of 5°C. Beginning with blue at temperatures < 0°C it can fade to different colors till it reaches red for temperatures beyond 25°C.

Ambileon 2
Image 4: copper foil touch sensor and camera embedded in case

The third, most interactive and, in our opinion, funniest ability of AmbiLEON is the pet mode. Chameleons show their emotions by changing colors and so shall AmbiLEON. It’s possible to pet AmbiLEON which reacts differently whether you pet it the right way or not. It is happy if you pet more rips at a time or single rips from the “head” to the “tail”. It shows its happiness by changing its color randomly between purple, cyan and blue in the area you pet and goes back to standard green if you stop. Additionally it vibrates to provide a haptic feedback and a sound which reminds of purring cats.

Ambileon 3
Image 5: vibration motor

If you pet AmbiLEON from “tail” to “head” however it will become angry which is expressed by a red color. Then it needs some time to calm down before it can be happy again.

This feature is realized by some copper foil stuck to the rips and connected to the ArduinoMEGA by a wire. Via CapSense it is possible to get higher values if someone touches the copper foil. To make it even more sensitive, like we needed to provide accuracy even with cloth between fingers and foil, we added a 10 MΩ resistor.

Now AmbiLEON was almost ready. The cables were fixed in the holes of our skeleton and we slipped some cloth (taken from some white tights) over the AmbiLEON skeleton to create the ambient light.

Ambileon 4
Image 6: AmbiLEON with skin

Values and Potential

During the course we already made the experience that people liked trying out AmbiLEON, petting it, seeing its reactions and playing around with the camouflage mode. The ability to play with AmbiLEON and the dynamic decorative element had an enormous attractiveness to people. We are extremely confident that AmbiLEON would enjoy great popularity due to the possible interactions, reactions and modes. In opposite to normal ambilight it doesn’t simply have a static sequence of colors but presents an exciting alternative to ordinary lamps.

We see AmbiLEON as a beginning of revolutionary furniture which responds in many ways to its surroundings and thus creates a whole new way of interior design possibilities.

Next Steps

The current version of AmbiLEON uses a button to switch between the three different modes. In future it shall be possible to union at least two of them, which would be camouflage and the pet mode.

Furthermore we would try to avoid the many cables that come out of the AmbiLEON by putting the ArduinoMEGA inside the skeleton together with the used bread board. Then the power supply and the camera cable would be the only wires to deal with. Of course in another step it should be possible to use the camouflage mode without a PC.

That’s how AmbiLEON came to life and we experienced the course: the three of us had a lot of fun.

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