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Interactive Art: Build Statues That Come Alive When They See You

Difficulty
Time Required Average (6-10 days)
Prerequisites None
Material Availability Readily available
Cost Low ($20 - $50)
Safety Depending on the crafting you do for your sculpture, the project may require craft knives or other items that should be used carefully and with supervision, as needed.

Abstract

A simple circuit and a servo motor are all you need to turn any work of art into an interactive moving creation that is happy to see you. Light sensors see your shadow as you walk past your artwork and make a servo motor move back and forth. Waving arms? Turning heads? It is all up to you!

Objective

Change still piece of art into one that moves when triggered light and shadows.

Credits

Howard Eglowstein, Science Buddies
Emlee C. Kohler, PhD,
  • Elmer's is a registered trademark of Elmer's Products, Inc.
  • Crayola and Model Magic are registered trademarks of Crayola, Inc.

Cite This Page

MLA Style

Eglowstein, Howard, and Emlee C. Kohler. "Interactive Art: Build Statues That Come Alive When They See You" Science Buddies. Science Buddies, 28 July 2017. Web. 25 Sep. 2017 <https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Robotics_p029/robotics/build-statues-come-alive>

APA Style

Eglowstein, H., & Kohler, E. (2017, July 28). Interactive Art: Build Statues That Come Alive When They See You. Retrieved September 25, 2017 from https://www.sciencebuddies.org/science-fair-projects/project-ideas/Robotics_p029/robotics/build-statues-come-alive

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Last edit date: 2017-07-28

Introduction

Whether you are drawing, taking photographs, crafting, or sculpting out of clay or other materials, simply put: art is fun! After you make a sculpture, where does it go? In your family's living room? On a special display shelf?

You and your family and friends probably enjoy looking at it, but it just sits there. What if it could look back at you? Or wave to you? With just a few electronic parts and a servo motor, your sculpture can come to life as you walk by.


Watch this Science Buddies video on interactive art.
Watch this Science Buddies video on interactive art. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L_uvGlvmme8

The secret to making your creation come alive is adding a motor. You have probably seen radio-controlled cars or airplanes that steer with servo motors. With radio control, the radios determine the movement based on how you manipulate the joysticks. Robots use servo motors, too, with computers controlling how they move. You can learn more about servos by reading the Science Buddies resource Introduction to Servo Motors. They are amazing and incredibly versatile. And as you will discover doing this project, very easy to use without any radios or computers.

Making your sculptures watch you as you walk past them will involve an electronic chip that was invented back in 1970. The 555 timer chip is one of those old technologies that is just too good to stop using. We use computers for all kinds of clocks and timers now, but we did not have cheap little computers back in 1970. Back then, a timer was a circuit made of a lot of parts. An engineer came up with the 555 chip as a way of simplifying timer circuits and making them easier and more powerful. For this project, you will use one to generate the signals needed to control a servo motor.

Photograph of a 555 timer chip.
Figure 1. A close-up view of the 555 timer chip.

Two photoresistors work as light sensors for this project. They change their electrical properties as light or shadows fall on them. With two of them in the circuit, you can tell the timer to change how it works as light shines on, or is blocked from the sensors, and that makes the servo turn back and forth as people walk past.

Terms and Concepts

  • Servo motor
  • 555 timer chip
  • Photoresistor
  • Schematic

Questions

  • What are servo motors used for?
  • In the circuit for this project, what is the relationship between what the photoresistors detect and the movement of the motor?

Bibliography

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Materials and Equipment

Parts for the servo motor control circuit:

*Resistors at Jameco do not come individually and you need to buy small bags of them. Instead of the three individual sizes, you might prefer to buy a selection that has a lot of different sizes. That may come in handy if you go on to make other electronic projects.

Craft supplies:

This will depend on what your art project will be. Here are some suggested materials. You may already have some of these around your house, or you can get them easily at a local craft store.

  • Pipe cleaners or fuzzy sticks
  • Craft sticks (wooden or foam)
  • Construction paper or cardboard
  • Foam board
  • White glue
  • Double-sided foam tape
  • Beads
  • Googly eyes or other embellishments
  • Glitter
  • Acrylic, tempera, or other water-cleanup paint
  • Paint brushes
  • Felt-tip markers
  • Scissors
  • Craft knife

Other optional tools:

  • Long nose pliers (some people like them for inserting parts in breadboards)
  • Wire (useful if you want to extend the photoresistor light sensors)
  • Solder and soldering iron (for moving the light sensors away from the board and making them easier to position)

Disclaimer: Science Buddies occasionally provides information (such as part numbers, supplier names, and supplier weblinks) to assist our users in locating specialty items for individual projects. The information is provided solely as a convenience to our users. We do our best to make sure that part numbers and descriptions are accurate when first listed. However, since part numbers do change as items are obsoleted or improved, please send us an email if you run across any parts that are no longer available. We also do our best to make sure that any listed supplier provides prompt, courteous service. Science Buddies does participate in affiliate programs with Amazon.com, Carolina Biological, Jameco Electronics, and AquaPhoenix Education. Proceeds from the affiliate programs help support Science Buddies, a 501(c)(3) public charity. If you have any comments (positive or negative) related to purchases you've made for science fair projects from recommendations on our site, please let us know. Write to us at scibuddy@sciencebuddies.org.

Remember Your Display Board Supplies

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Experimental Procedure

Wiring the Circuit

Regardless of what your art project looks like, the circuit to control the servo motor will be the same. So we will start with that. Figure 2 shows the circuit you will be building. It is a variation of a very common circuit that engineers design with the 555 chip. This drawing is called a schematic and it is a lot like a road map of your circuit. Wires run wherever there is a line in the schematic, and wires connect where there is a large dot at an intersection. Do not worry about understanding how to build the circuit by just looking at the drawing; we will give you step-by-step instructions.

Schematic shows how to wire the servo motors and resistors.
Figure 2. The schematic for how to wire the servo motors and photoresistors in order to get your art moving.

Electronics components for creating moving art circuit
Figure 3. Some of the parts you will be using. From left to right, the servo motor and plastic servo horn, resistor, two photoresistors (light sensors), two resistors, diode, 555 timer chip, and breadboard.

Photograph of completed moving art circuit on a breadboard
Figure 4. A completed circuit. Yours may look different, depending on the breadboard you have and the way you put in the parts, but this is generally the idea. The breadboard is turned sideways in the picture, but note how the rows on the left (the bottom as it was built) of the breadboard are used for power—in this case, black (negative) on the top and red (positive) on the bottom.

Tip: The package of jumper wires you have might have all sorts of different lengths. The colors do not make any difference to the circuit, so you can choose to use colors that make sense to you. For example, using a red wire for positive battery connections and black ones for negative will help you remember which is which. You can also choose wires just for their lengths (keeping them shorter for convenience).

  1. Look at your breadboard. Hold it so that the valley in the middle goes up and down. On each side of the valley there are a series of rows that have five holes each (or more, depending on the breadboard you have). Each of the holes in each one of the rows is connected together, so putting wires in that row is like twisting them all together. You can learn more about breadboards and how they work by looking at the Science Buddies reference How to Use a Breadboard.
  2. Start with the 555 timer chip. Look at the top of the chip (pins pointing away from you). Do you see the small indentation at one end, or a small dot in one corner?
    1. If your chip has the indentation, hold it so that the indentation is up. The upper left corner is called pin 1. Counting down the left side will be pins 1, 2, 3, and 4. Go back up the right side, starting with the lower right corner. The pins on that side (counting from the bottom) are 5, 6, 7, and 8. Pin 1 is opposite 8, 2 is opposite 7, 3 is opposite 6, and 4 is opposite 5. Knowing which pin is which is critical to making your circuit work.
    2. If your chip has a single embossed dot instead of an indentation, that dot is pin 1. Proceed with the pin numbering as is explained in step 2.a.
  3. Plug the chip into the breadboard near the middle. If it does not immediately plug into the board, gently squeeze the pins closer and try again. The chip should have four pins on one side of the valley and four on the other. You can look at Figure 5 for a diagram of where to place each part of your circuit, including the 555 timer chip.
Diagram showing where on the breadboard to place each component
Figure 5. Diagram of how to build the circuit for this interactive art project. Other ways are possible, but you can follow this diagram exactly if you would like.
  1. Pick a few empty rows on each side of the breadboard to serve as positive and negative battery connections. Decide which side of the breadboard will be positive (red lines on the schematic drawing) and which side will be negative (black lines on the schematic drawing). If your battery pack has a power switch, be sure it is off, then connect the battery pack at this time to holes as shown in Figure 5. If you have red and black permanent markers, you could also draw small marks on the board. Or maybe your breadboard is bigger than the one on the picture and you have marked power rows (running vertically) that go the full length of the board. In Figure 4, the battery leads are inserted at the bottom of the breadboard, near the center strip.
  2. The capacitor (marked as C1 in the schematic) is a 0.022uF capacitor, which may be marked as '223'. Insert one lead of the capacitor (C1) in a hole associated with pin 1 of the chip, and the other lead in a hole for pin 2 of the chip. It does not matter which lead goes in which hole.
  3. Insert one end of a single wire in the pin 1 row and connect the other end to the row of the breadboard where your negative (black) battery lead is found.
  4. Now you will connect the servo motor. Depending on the brand of servo you have, the three wires may be black, red, and white or brown, red, and orange. Black is the negative side of the battery, red (usually the middle wire) is the positive side of the battery, and the remaining white or orange wire is the signal that controls the servo. Using a single wire, connect the black or brown lead of the servo to the row of the breadboard where your negative battery lead is found.
  5. Using a single wire, connect the orange or white lead of the servo to pin 3 of the chip.
  6. Using another single wire, connect the chip pin 4 to the red lead of the servo.
  7. Insert a single wire in the chip pin 4 row and connect the other end to the row of the breadboard where your positive battery lead is found.
  8. With resistors, it does not matter which end is which. R2 in this circuit is a 2.2kΩ (ohm) resistor marked with three stripes, red-red-red. Insert one side of R2 to a hole associated with chip pin 5 and connect the other end to an empty, unused row.
    • Tip: The next two steps will be installing the photoresistor light sensors. In your project, you may want to position the two sensors away from the breadboard, perhaps in a stand where you will place your sculpture. The Variations section of the project describes how you can put them on wires instead of directly into the breadboard. You may want to put them directly at first, then move them later.
  9. R3 is one of the photoresistors that you are using as a light sensor. Insert one side of R3 into the new row where you just connected R2 and the other side of R3 into the negative battery row.
  10. R4 is the other photoresistor light sensor. Insert one side of R4 into the new row where you connected R2 and R3, and the other side of R4 into the positive battery row.
  11. R1 is a 3.3MΩ resistor, marked with orange-orange-green stripes. Insert one end of R1 in holes associated with chip pin 6 and the other end in holes associated with chip pin 7.
  12. D1 is a diode. Diodes work as valves to prevent electricity from flowing back and forth, so it does matter which way you use it. Find the end of D1 that has the black or gray band. Insert that end of D1 in a hole associated with chip pin 6.
  13. Insert the other end of D1 into a hole associated with chip pin 7.
  14. R5 is a 110kΩ resistor. It is an odd size and you may not have one exactly like that. If you have a 110kΩ resistor, it will be marked as brown-brown-yellow. You might have a 100kΩ resistor instead (brown-black-yellow) or a 120kΩ resistor (brown-red-yellow). Insert one side of R5 into a hole associated with chip pin 8 and the other side into the row of the breadboard where your positive battery lead is found.
  15. Using a single wire, connect chip pin 8 to the row of the breadboard where your positive battery lead is found.
  16. Insert one end of a single wire in the chip pin 2 row and connect the other end in the pin 6 row.
  17. That is it for wiring! Take a few minutes to check and double-check your work and make sure that your version looks similar to the one in Figures 4 and 5, and generally follows the wiring in the schematic. Look to see if any of the wires or resistor/capacitor leads are touching each other. If you find any, bend them a bit to keep them separate.
  18. Once you think you have everything right, go ahead and turn on the power switch, connect the battery or put the batteries in the battery holder. The servo motor should rotate to a position and stay reasonably steady.
  19. With a light above you, use your finger to cast a shadow on the two sensors, R3 and R4. As your shadow covers one of the sensors the motor will turn. Cast the shadow over the other one and it turns the other way. If your circuit is working, congratulations; it is time to do the art part of this project. If the circuit is not working, do not worry; the Troubleshooting section will help you find your problem and fix it.

Troubleshooting

You might be asking, "My circuit does not work. What did I do wrong?". Breadboards can be tricky sometimes. Try these fixes:

  1. Did you identify pin 1 of the chip correctly and identify the other seven pins? If you hold the chip with the pins facing away from you and the indentation or the small hole at the top, pin 1 will be at the upper left. Count down the left side to get 2, 3, and 4, then starting at the lower right, count up to see 5, 6, 7, and 8.
  2. Are your wires firmly pressed into the breadboard as far as they will go? Check each wire.
  3. Is the diode D1 in the right direction? The black or gray band printed on the body will go toward pin 6 of the chip, and the other end goes into pin 7. The circuit will not work if it is the wrong way.
  4. Do not confuse the resistors. It matters which is which, so double-check the colored stripes.
  5. Remember that each row of holes connects all of the holes together, but not any other rows.

Creating Your Art

With the circuit complete, gather your art materials. Use what you enjoy to sculpt with, whether it is modeling clay, gluing foam shapes together, or making things with craft sticks. Figure 6 shows some materials you might find useful. Small servo motors cannot move very heavy objects, so do not make any part of the sculpture too big or heavy.

craft supplies for creating moving art or waving snowman
Figure 6. Some craft materials you might find useful. Clockwise, starting at the top, the plastic servo horn that will move your sculpture's head, arms, etcetera; paper clips, paper cutouts, pipe cleaners, double-sided foam tape, white (school) glue, rubber cement, and modeling clay. Not shown: clear or masking tape, googly eyes, staples and a stapler, glitter, paint, markers.
  • The servo motor itself will need to be stuck into or attached to something. Figure 7 shows the servo stuck into the body of a snowman made of modeling material. The pipe cleaner arms are attached to the servo horn by wrapping them around it, as shown in Figure 7. The snowman's mittens are simply taped on with regular clear tape. Let your imagination take over; what will your sculpture look like? What will you create? Aliens? Monsters? Flowers that sway back and forth?
Attaching servo motor to snowman art using pipe cleaner
Figure 7. The pipe cleaner and snowman hands attached to the servo horn and placed on the servo. Attach the hands so that they will be visible from the front.

Completed circuit attached to snowman
Figure 8. The whole servo motor and circuit need to be attached to the artwork.

Arrange your sculpture like we did in Figure 9 so that the servo motor is hidden (a magician never reveals his or her secrets!) and the light sensors are facing forward. Point a light source at the sensors and wait until someone walks by. As their shadow crosses one sensor, the servo motor will move one way, then the other, as the shadow continues over the other sensor. Our snowman waves a cheery greeting. What will your sculpture do?

A snowman that uses a light-sensitive circuit to wave to you.
Figure 9. A snowman that waves a happy greeting as you walk by!

Communicating Your Results: Start Planning Your Display Board

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Variations

  • If you stick the servo motor into a body so that the rotating shaft points up, and attach the servo horn to a head, your sculpture can turn its head back and forth to follow you as you walk by.
  • The light sensors might not be easy to position in a good spot if they are stuck into the breadboard. You can use wire to extend the leads of the photoresistor light sensors a reasonable distance (perhaps 25 or 30 cm). Solder or twist a wire onto each of the wires on the two sensors and plug those into your breadboard. You can position the sensors farther apart and hide the breadboard.

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