By developing an initial prototype to test the solenoid valves and the air pressure needed to blow up a small balloon, I was able to begin to envisage the potential for the project. To see it working on a smaller scale allowed me to address any potential issues such as:
What material is best to use for the inflatable?
Because I want the balloon deflate as well as inflate, I am initially thinking of using a weather balloon, as they can withstand various changes in altitude, temperature and can inflate to enormous sizes. For the second prototype, i intend to use a balloon with a 5ft 5 diameter, allowing me to test on a larger scale. Another benefit of using a weather balloon is that it will naturally deflate due to its elastic latex compounds.
I have also been exploring the potential of using plastics such as PVC or parachute fabric, as this will allow me to create a much larger, custom inflatable. The downsides to using this falls both technically and conceptually. Technically, because PVC / plastic bags are not naturally elasticated, meaning an external or internal elastic structure would need to be added to the inflatable. The worry here being that the resistance of the elastic on the plastic may be too strong, causing the structure to deform on inflation, and an alternative method of inflation may be necessary, such as an air blower and a vacuum, which may not be as effective and subtle as compressed air
Conceptually, the problem here is that the plastic inflatable will already have a predetermined maximum size, and so will not necessarily 'inflate’; merely enlarge, which doesn’t reflect my original concept.
How will it be hung?
The idea is to test the second prototype using an elastic cord system to create a web-like structure that will suspend the weather balloon from the ceiling in the FACTLab studio. I intend to create a small 3D printed ring that can be used to attach the elastic together at the base of the balloon and allow air to be added to the balloon.
I have coded an arduino to allow air to enter the balloon for a certain period of time when the button is pushed - the system then begins to release the air automatically after three seconds. This will effectively form the basis of the final install, yet as opposed to using a button it will use the internet. I am looking to monitor the volume of air inside the balloon using a pressure sensor which will stop an over-inflate and allow me to monitor how much air is inside the balloon at any given point.
I have redesigned the solenoid control unit to make it easier to test with; by dismantling the previous cage, it is now easier for the air tubes to be fed up the wall and from the ceiling.
Potential risks at this point:
- The fabric elastic rubbing onto the exterior of the balloon causing friction, which may pop the balloon
- The air compressor may not have enough capacity to constantly inflate the balloon
- The tubes may be too thin, causing the inflation and deflation to be slow and potentially boring.
After testing the air compressor using the 5ft balloon, I became increasingly dissatisfied with the aesthetic of the inflate and deflate as both became incredibly slow. In order to increase the airflow to the balloon a wider gauge tube would be necessary to use.
The air compressor worked extremely well for a smaller balloon but became more complex on a larger scale. The compressor had to refill more than three times before the balloon reached capacity, and so using the compressor at this stage would require rebuilding the tubing system and solenoids to compensate for the scale increase. I used a hair dryer to test the power on the larger balloon and the results were far more pleasing. This discovery led me to test a leaf blower on the balloon.
The leaf blower is far more efficient and provides the necessary aesthetic that I am looking for. The other benefits of using the leaf blower include:
- Not having to use solenoid valves as the air passes back through the blower causing the balloon to deflate naturally
- Much more power can be emitted in a short space of time
- It is a lot safer
- It can be hooked up to a relay to make it easier to be controlled via the internet
- Aesthetically, a leaf blower strapped above a giant inflating balloon will look far more compelling to the viewer
I have also scrapped the idea of the balloon sitting inside elastic, as I believe conceptually it appeared to be restricting the balloon. By designing a circular disk and using a long metal vertical tube above the balloon, I have a platform in which to hang the elasticated cord which also allows the balloon to rest comfortably suspended from the ceiling. The metal tube is used to house the flexible air tubing coming from the compressor.
The elastic represents the streams of data and online communication through social media sites, and is to be hung like a large web from the ceiling and walls of the FACT foyer, as if these data streams are feeding the balloon.
I am using an electrical imp to connect the piece to the internet and currently working on setting up gathering the Twitter feeds, marketing and the domain for the work. Working in FACTLab is vital for the development of the technical and logistical elements of the piece as the space acts a space for knowledge sharing and ideas.
Find out more about Ant's project by visiting FACTLab, open Tuesday - Sunday until 31 August in Gallery 2.