Memento Mori – mostly finished

Here’s some video documentation of my Memento Mori project. Pushing a button opens a box which then provides a highly specific fortune.

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I’m using a standard servo screwed to the bottom right side of the box to open the lid (I had to upgrade from a micro servo which wasn’t powerful enough). Once the box opens a fortune prints out using a thermal printer.

My initial goal was to have hundreds if not thousands of fortunes, stored on an SD card. Unfortunately I had some difficulty in getting the card reader working with Arduino, so I resorted to using the flash memory of the microcontroller itself – a technique I learned here.

My other challenge was hooking up enough power to the system. I wanted to power everything with batteries, but was having trouble providing enough current for the thermal printer to output anything. I tried connecting some 9V batteries in parallel but it didn’t quite do the trick and also made the batteries dangerously hot. This is definitely an amateur issue… I ended up powering the printer with an adapter and the arduino with a 9V.

I sourced the fortunes from New York Times obituaries. I wrote a little script using NodeBox’s Linguistics library that alters texts by switching sentences from third to second person, and changes tense from past to future. I edited the results to produce the fortunes:


The arduino code for the project is here on github:

Memento Mori – trigger mechanism

I’ve purchased a new box for my Memento Mori project.

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I spent a few hours today trying to get the lid of the box to slowly rise using a servo.

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Unfortunately the servos I have lying around aren’t quite strong enough, so I ordered a new one with greater torque which I hope will do the trick.

In the meantime I spent some time playing with ideas for the mechanism that will open the box. At this point I have three options that I’m evaluating.

One: a distance sensor. I was initially most attracted to this option. The idea here is that the fortune-recipients approach the box, and as they reach out the box begins to open up in one fluid motion. Here’s a video of me implementing a crude version of what I’m imagining. In the first part of the video I’m experimenting with sensor values and smoothing, in the second part the servo is opening a box when a hand approaches.

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I love the playfulness of this interaction but I think it lacks intentionality and is too chaotic for this project. I might want to use the idea again in something else. For example, I could imagine a wall with hundreds of tiny boxes on shelves that each open and shut as visitors get close – something that would be evocative of chained dogs snapping at unwelcome guests.

Two: a simple button embedded on the outside of the box. There’s even a hole already there…

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This seems like a reasonable option. I like how well the button fits into the enclosure I’ve picked. There’s nothing particularly exciting about a button, but it’s straightforward, fairly intuitive, and hopefully less prone to user error/confusion.

Three: a coin-op mechanism, pictured below.


I have one of these but haven’t hooked it in yet. Again, I like the straightforwardness of this option, and it’s legibility. For me it recollects coin-op fortune telling machines that I’ve seen in the past, so it doesn’t seem like the interaction would be completely out of left field. Generally speaking I want to strike a balance in this project between legibility and the delight that comes from an expected occurrence.

Memento Mori: Box Prototype

I’ve started to work on a somewhat more ambitious physical computing project. My goal is to create a kind of overly specific fortune telling machine. The user will push a large button, a box will open, and a lengthy fortune will shoot out. The content of the fortunes will come from NY Times obituary pieces.

I’m calling the project “Memento Mori” after the Medieval artistic motif of the same name.

So far, I’ve built a simple prototype of the box that will contain the fortunes. A servo controlled by an arduino sketch opens and closes the lid. I quickly discovered that you need to hold the servo in place for it to actually be able to do anything…

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Two-player Duck Hunt

Tan Ma and I implemented a quick two-player version of Duck Hunt using a Processing project she had created. One player controls the gun with the mouse, the other controls the ducks with an accelerometer/arduino combo.

Initially we tried mapping the ducks position one-to-one with the values accelerometer was giving us, but we discovered that this produced jittery results. We found it worked much better to add and subtract reduced dampened accelerometer values to the ducks’ coordinates.

Here’s a hastily-made video of the application:

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