For my first coop placement in my engineering program (May ‘22 - August ‘22), I had the pleasure of working with Philip Beesley (PBSI) at the Living Architecture Systems Group (LASG). It’s a small team of around 12 in-person staff consisting of engineers, designers, and admin that design and build responsive environments and interactive sculptures. The studio is based out of Toronto Canada but the installations are completed around the world.
I worked as an engineer/industrial design co-op student primarily on the design of actuated devices in PBSI sculptures. I developed the Blade of Grass vibration actuator from conception through prototyping to its very first production run, completing the industrial, mechanical, and electrical design for the actuator. Additionally, I worked on the August 2022 Shadows and Whispers workshop, which was delivered to 15 design professionals at the Domaine de Boisbuchet in southern France. I focused on kit design, electrical planning, and workshop content. On-site, I led sessions, helped troubleshoot, and solved mechanical and electrical problems.
The studio uses a variety of actuators to bring life. One of the most commonly used actuators in the sculptures is the Moth vibration actuator. The studio has found that small vibrations running through cantilevered material can amplify movements into dramatic precarious motion. The Moth is an incredibly beautiful actuator but it does have its shortcomings, it has a large part count of 20+ individual pieces, they have they take a lot of time and are difficult to assemble, and they cost too much to place thousands of them in the sculpture making field behavior difficult to achieve.
That’s where my project the Blade of Grass comes in. It’s a brand new vibration actuator designed to fill all the gaps the Moth has.
The design criteria for the Blade of Grass were as follows: Cheap (below 10$/actuator), low part count, easy assembly, and obviously maintaining aesthetic goals for the sculptures.
The blade of grass is made up of only 5 components; the 3 mm acrylic bow, the mylar blade, the PCB, the vibration motor, and the resin-printed motor sleeve. The low part count and simplicity of the design lead to a low cost of approximately 8$/actuator (the cost will decrease even more when produced in quantities over 100). Finally, assembly per actuator is under 2-minutes with the longest part being soldering a through-hole component to the PCB which can be eliminated when ordered in larger quantities.
The function of the Blade of Grass is simple but elegant. The vibration motor generates small movements that are then amplified through the mylar blade to create dramatic precarious movement at the tip. The blade was precisely tuned to be on edge at all times easily influenced into collapse or back into its straight shape. The design for the Blade of Grass was done primarily in Fusion360 in combination with Rhino for more precise drawing making.
For the Blade of Grass actuator, everything started from the ground up. The board is quite simple, it is a jack plate receiving the 5 volts from the sculpture distribution boards. The PCB is used structurally within the design to add a 2nd dimension to the Blade of Grass assembly. It also has two designed safety features such as a flyback voltage spike and reverses polarity plug-in protection. I designed the board using Fusion360 and Eagle PCB designer.
I also completed the less exciting parts of the electrical design such as component sourcing and PCB ordering. This consisted of efficiently using catalogs from manufacturers and Digikey, communicating with vendors over both video and email, and managing out-of-studio manufacturing communication and concerns with JLCPCB.
As the lead developer of the actuator, there was a lot of managing and documentation to complete. I made drawings for sign-off and schematic packages using Rhino following studio standards.
Another skill I learned from the studio was the use of spreadsheets to create live and adaptive packing and manufacturing trackers. This helped tremendously when it came time for the first production run of the Blade of Grass and with packing for our workshop in France.
Because of the amount of travel done by co-workers, collaborators, and intern turn-over, keeping the Blade of Grass well documented was a must. I produced bi-weekly progress updates to keep co-workers and collaborators up-to-date on the Blade of Grass progress as well as what is gating progress. Created detailed instructions for specific CAD techniques and how to manufacture certain components.
For more details please check out the Shadows & Whispers project page on this site. You can also check out the LASG site and Domaine De Boisbuchet for more details.
On the work trip to France, I helped perform a modification to an already installed sculpture in the north of France. I focused primarily on electrical system modification which involved the installation of extra components and re-cabling the sculpture's main electrical system.
In the studio, I was able to apply both previous knowledge and newly learned skills to maintain the workshop and tools we use such as standard shop tools, laser cutters, 3d printers, etc.