Brain Coral, Signal Fish and Xbees Help Create “Inside the Blue”

Ken Kaplan Executive Editor, iQ by Intel

We live in an invisible world of waves, from natural ones like heat, motion and light to those of the technological variety like WiFi, 4G and LTE. We can’t see these waves with our own eyes, but what if technology like the Galileo Board could help us to visualize them?

That’s the thinking behind ‘Inside the Blue,’ a community project the Noise agency developed in collaboration with Intel that launched recently and can be seen on display at Intel’s Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco this week and at the World Maker Faire in New York on September 20 and 21.

The concept behind Inside the Blue is an ecosystem of creatures that live inside the ocean — like a jellyfish or a whale — which detect different invisible waves using the sensor capacity of the Galileo. The invisible waves are converted and displayed into light, sound or motion, making the invisible world visible.

At the core of the program are two tutorials hosted on the Intel Maker Community site, as well as a series of inspirational posts designed to ignite the imagination of Makers to build and develop their own creatures.

These two tutorials work in tandem. Brain Coral acts as a wireless base station with an analog motion sensor that blinks based on how close or how far a person is from it, and it also communicates wirelessly through Xbees with the flying Signal Fish.

In the words of one of its creators, 29-year-old Kanish Patel, the Signal Fish is, “An autonomous WiFi-detecting flying machine that lights up when it likes the WiFi it is detecting.” ‘Like’ in this case indicates a quality signal that triggers the Signal Fish to play an animation. (How exactly this occurs is that the Signal Fish ‘finds’ the WiFi signal and relays that information back to the Brain Coral.)

The Brain Coral blinking in reaction to motion around it.

Talking with Patel you get a real feel for the fun and infectious nature of the Maker community and the diverse talents it draws upon.

“As an electrical engineer it was fun for me to try to create something that flies and does weird stuff. And I got to play with electronics which I don’t get to do much anymore.”

When he talks about the design process he embarked upon to figure out just how to create this flying, signal-seeking balloon from scratch, he makes the possibly painful trial and error seem like the most fun a person could have outside of an amusement park.

Everything had to be created from whole cloth, from the balloon that was the bulk of the 7-foot creature, to the 3D-printed propellers that enabled flight, to the undercarriage that housed the motors.
An early rendering of the blimp-shaped Signal Fish with the undercarriage that houses the motors and propellers.

“We needed something that flies around and looks cool. That was essential,” said Patel.

Working with teammates Paul Ferragut, an industrial designer, and fashion designer Ann-Kristin Abel, they collectively came up with the shape of the Signal Fish and, after a few abortive attempts with off-the-shelf mylar, arrived at the translucent version you see Ann-Kristin ironing together and assembling in the video below. Christian Bianchini, a Physical Computing Engineer sourced the necessary components and designed the circuit with Paul that would enable the Signal Fish to achieve flight.

A timelapse of the Signal Fish being built.

Having figured out the necessary materials for the exterior for the Signal Fish, they then had to embark on the non-trivial task of visualizing what happens when the Signal Fish found its WiFi.

“We decided to fill it [the Signal Fish] with smoke for effect but smoke and helium don’t mix,” said Patel.

Then explaining another abortive effort Patel explains, “We wanted to have trailing tails that lit up like a jellyfish, but we couldn’t get that to lift off either.”

In the end, they arrived at having a “cool animation” that starts from the front and goes to the back when the Signal Fish finds the WiFi.

Patel was impressed with the Galileo. Having played with Arduino previously, he summed up his experience with Intel’s Galileo succinctly.

Leaning into his Electrical Engineering background, he said, “Arduino is tailored for people who aren’t like me. Galileo is good for people like me.”


Find out more about Inside the Blue at the Intel Maker Community Site.

Stay tuned for more Maker stories featuring flying Quadcopters and Nest-like night lights.


Related stories:
Off-the-Shelf Technology Sparks Makerspace Race
Are Makers Born or Made?
How the Maker Faire Blew Our Minds
How One Entrepreneur Is Bringing Fringe Maker Knowledge Mainstream
Today’s Tinker Toys: Computing Components That Inspire the Maker Movement
Galileo: The New Tool That’s Changing the Maker Movement
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