Improvized super cluster setup in Coachella © Jenna Sutela

Improvized super cluster setup in Coachella © Jenna Sutela

Super Ball is a large scale balloon installation I was working on together with Jenna Sutela and Martti Kalliala based on their concept. Their initial idea was to animate a super sized balloon taking three giant leaps in the night sky. Installation was made for Coachella festival 2008. However, hostile wind conditions at the location made the implementation of the original concept impossible and Jenna and Martti cleverly refactored the installation into Super Cluster. I´m hoping that in the future the installation can be displayed in the Super Ball form, which it was designed for.

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Improvized super cluster setup in Coachella © Jenna Sutela

For installation my task was to implement a control unit for controlling a network of 49 1-Wire switches. The network itself was put together by Jukka Rehu. Each switch is basically a programmable microcontroller. In this application it was not necessary to actually program them, just alter value of one output pin on the chip. This would turn ultra bright LED connected to it on/off.

Finished Animator Unit. Knob may be used to control the speed of the animation. Buttons are used for selecting different animations.

Finished Animator Unit. Knob may be used to control the speed of the animation. Buttons are used for selecting different animations.

This was one of the first projects I used Arduino (first generation). Electronics were installed in a Hammond box. There are connectors for power supply, fuse, USB (so there would not be any need to open the box for re-programming Arduino) and for light chain itself. Below one blurry picture from the inside.

Animator unit contents. Those were the times of messy wiring.

Animator unit contents. Those were the times of messy wiring.

Luckily there is a ready made library for 1-Wire protocol. 1-Wire protocol is pretty straight forward but the command api of a switch was not. After some struggling I finally understood the order on 1-Wire commands to make the LED blink.

Super Ball network test run without balloons attached.

Super Ball network test run without balloons attached © Jenna Sutela

Testing the controller with the chain was a nightmare. It took hours of me to realize that innocent looking loops on a 150m light chain cable were actually forming coils which blocked the data stream inside the cable. The last switches in the chain were behaving badly and sometimes the whole chain could freeze.

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When network cable was not fully unwrapped, the data communication problems occurred © Jenna Sutela

I added more code for error checking but when we finally did spread the cable more straight in Jenna’s studio, the chain started to behave. On the video above you see the before behavior as two LEDs are on at the same moment. In retrospective, dividing the network to two networks each being significantly shorter than 150m would have helped a lot as well.

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When network cable was unwrapped, the data communication was working fine © Jenna Sutela

Designing and building the light chain part of the installation (1-Wire network, led-units, balloon valves etc) was done by Martti Kalliala, Jenna Sutela and Jukka Rehu.