StraySpace is an engaging creepy experience that brings out your altruistic traits by introducing abstract creatures (Animal Spirit Friends, ASFs for short). The ASFs have become lost on earth and require help from you to guide them back home! The only way to help the ASFs is to perform large motions in front of screaming windmills; otherworldly structures that “scream” when activated.
It is up to you earthlings to successfully activate and maintain the windmills to guide the ASFs towards the portal in the centre and send them home, as all must be simultaneously active for a certain amount of time for the ASFs to be saved. The windmills will get louder if they sense your approach to success, so it will get more difficult to cooperate with your comrades. Are you able to help the helpless in the midst of all the chaos? Or will it be too much to handle?
The installation requires 3 brave earthlings to interact with the windmills in order to save the ASFs. Two earthlings will help guide individual creatures on the left and right of the display, while the remaining earthling is responsible for opening the portal. You may notice the lights at each windmill post. They will help guide you to make the right motions that the windmill wants to see.
Our project’s creepy aspect was inspired by Fokkinga and A. Desmet while our altruistic and collaborative components were informed by Ale, Brown & Sullivan. Beat Saber, Avatar and Wouters et. al influenced the large motions for user interactions and the need for windmills.Characters from Studio Ghibli, Pokemon, and various children’s toys and media inspired the need for cute and otherwordly creatures. Technological windmills by HomeMadeGarbage, Guerri and ProgramminginArduino inspired our design for the windmills.
Technical Development & Construction
The windmill contraptions are composed of a drill attached to a motor controller, controlled by an Arduino Leonardo microcontroller which has an ultrasonic distance sensor and a Passive Infrared (PIR) motion sensor attached as input. When a user makes a large motion that satisfies the windmill, the speed of the windmill will increase. Adafruit Neopixel strips are attached to the acrylic panel of the windmill mounting box to provide further visual feedback to the user of whether their motions satisfy the windmill. To make the windmill blades and allow it to spin, we covered EVA foam with metallic fabric and zip tied it to a wooden centrepiece. This wooden piece attaches to a drill via a threaded rod with washers and nylon nuts on either side to keep the blades secure.
We used plywood to make boxes to sit all of the components in so that users only have to see the blades on the outside and put a repurposed frosted acrylic panel at the front to allow for the lights to diffuse through to the outside. Not only does this protect the components from inquisitive minds, but also reduces the effect of the elements as all the critical connections are contained. To mount the boxes to the existing bridge pillars, we used galvanised threaded rods bent into U-shapes, washers and nuts. 2 of these U-shape rods support each windmill-box.
The visual display with the ASFs is a 2D game that was created through Unity. The background and creatures were designed using various Adobe Creative Cloud Apps, mainly Adobe Fresco and Adobe Illustrator. The way that the Arduino connects with the Unity game is by having keypress listeners in the unity game to look out for W, A and D keypresses. These keypresses correspond to a different windmill for each and will either move one of the creatures towards the portal, or keep the portal open so that the ASFs can make it back to their home. The A keypress is linked to the windmill on the left and controls the ASF on the left of the display. If the user is doing the correct motion, the ASF will move towards the portal, otherwise it will fade out of existence and get lost forever. The D keypress does the same but on the opposite side. The W keypress will open the portal, and is activated when users are doing the correct motion in front of the W windmill. The simplicity of connecting the arduino to unity as a keypress is the main reason we used Arduino Leonardo over Arduino Uno boards. Other solutions we explored were mostly out of stock and involved a much steeper learning curve. The only main difference in form between Uno and Leonardo boards is that the connection to the board is MicroUSB instead of USB type-B, which allowed us to easily transfer from one board to another.
Exhibit Final Form
The final installation took the form of three boxes containing our arduinos, drills, and sensors , connected to a Mac Mini running unity, attached to a projector displaying our ‘game’ onto a fabric screen. A signal from the sensor would travel to the arduino, outputting instructions to neopixel LED’s and motor drivers attached to our drills, as well as registering a keypress to the game.
The game consisted of Animal Spirit Friends (ASF’s) falling into the void, emitting screams as they did so. When obstructing the passive infrared sensor and the ultrasonic sensor within a certain range, the windmill lights would emit a rainbow pattern, spin the blade in a consistent, continuous motion and move the ASFs on screen toward a door, until they could escape. If the user was too close to the windmill, the lights would flash red, and the windmill would spin in an error-like pattern with many sudden stops and starts.
Due to our intended site being muddy, the first day our installation was located in the Advanced Engineering Building, limiting it’s exposure and our audience. While there were many passers by, only around fifteen or so people actually interacted with the installation itself. Of these, at least six spun the blades by hand as they were trying to understand how the installation worked. They would then be shocked by the error response as they would be standing directly in front of the sensor. Only three users managed to trigger the windmills correctly, but no one managed to save any aliens. Almost everyone was simply confused, or lost interest after a short investigation.
On the second day, we were able to set up in the intended location improving traffic to the installation allowing for people looking out over the sides of the bridge, or detouring from the pond areas to come see what the sound and lightshow.
While there were a few lulls, the presence of small initial crowds through the night served to cascade into larger and larger groups of people coming to check out the installation. The large volume of passive observers of the installation meant distant observers frequently took the opportunity to try and figure out what the installation was meant to be before participating themselves, allowing them to complete the interaction… but also meaning that it was very rare to have complete strangers or people from different family groups talking to each other or letting each other know what to do.
Children and their parents in particular had some rather creative movements when interacting with the installation, spinning around, running between multiple windmills, or jumping up and down. Due to the location of the sensors, smaller children had to both do “massive motions”, and partially dodge around the windmill to see the screen and see what happens to the aliens. Some parents took the opportunity to guide or mirror their children.
Outcomes and Next Steps
While the installation was successful at encouraging large movements, its success at promoting connections amongst individuals from different family groups, or strangers, was more limited. Many users were content just activating the windmills, and not necessarily finishing the game or saving aliens, even if the games sounds were what caught their attention. While there was times where strangers would say into the open “we need someone on that windmill”, post usage it was rare to see the experience followed up on.
Perhaps further steps should focus on how to get a single terminal or point of input, to recognise multiple people within a certain square meter area. Currently, it’s possible to get immediate feedback from “your” windmill if you dance in front of it, a reward for dancing well, but if that gratification was delayed until “everyone” does it right, like sending the aliens home, then there would be a stronger need for everyone to converse and collaborate while interacting with the installation.