Emoji Split-Flap Display



What will be the visual language of the Internet of Things? If we move away from screens and monitors as the primary method of digital communication, and instead embed communication technology into the objects and environments around us, then what language will they speak?

This prototype is part of multiple research outputs I’m building with the aim of engaging with these questions. It aims to explore post-digital semantics, and what kind of signs and symbols make sense in the growing crossover between our digital and physical lives. Future outcomes will test other forms of communication, but to begin with I wanted to use emojis – a new universal language of symbols built into all new smart phones. They’re intriguing as they incorporate symbols from a range of global cultures, selected by standards committees for their significance to contemporary messaging, and include a diverse range of subjects from love hearts to smiling poos, and from detailed miniature landscapes to cryptic glyphs and icons. These small images hold deep cultural or emergent meanings within digital communication, and therefore seem well suited to this research.

The scope of this particular prototype is to test the mechanism of the split-flap, and the ability to control the device remotely over the network. To do this I have repurposed the flaps from a cheap ebay split-flap clock. This gave me 60 character positions to play with, and I therefore selected a subsection of popular and practical emojis to display. I placed the flap mechanism in a section of aluminium box section, and connected it to Sparkfun small stepper motor, which provides the precise movement control needed to flip the display one flap at a time. This is then controlled by an Arduino Yun, via an H-Bridge chip. The Yun makes the control over the network incredibly easy to set up, as it has wifi built in, and allows you to control the Arduino code via simple REST commands – meaning a link on a website can send a message to the Arduino (providing they are connected to the same network). The H-Bridge chip is a standard method of controlling motors with an Arduino. Motors use much more power than an Arduino can provide, and therefore need an external component to safely control how the power is sent to the motor.

The next stage for this prototype is to connect it to online information sources, so it can act as a physical representation of live online information. The finish of the current prototype will also be improved. More updates on this to follow. In the mean time, here’s a video of it in action:

Angus Main – Emoji Split-Flap Display from Angus Main on Vimeo.

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