Halloween is the one time a year where it’s socially acceptable to get weird – and here at GS&F we wholeheartedly embrace that. However, Halloween can also be very predictable at times: with the same old ghosts, witches, axe murders, and zombies. We like to be different. The interactive team at GS&F set out to create the most bizarre interactive installation we could muster for the holiday. And what’s more bizarre than a skeletal, country music singing, Zoltar-esque fortune teller named Blake Skelton?
Reply Hazy, Try Again
Blake Skelton’s design was based off of vintage fortune telling arcade machines: on the exterior was the input system, and on the inside was our ‘animatronic mannequin’ and ambient room effects.
For our exterior, our input system comprised of an ultrasonic sensor and a microphone/speaker, all powered by a Raspberry Pi. The ultrasonic sensor is an analog sensor used to detect if a person is close in proximity. If someone was detected, this would trigger the microphone and speaker. Users would be able to ask closed questions (similar to a Magic Eight Ball) and would receive a Blake Shelton-esque yes/no/maybe voice response to their question.
For the interior, we had another Raspberry Pi, a stripe of LED lights, a hacked fog machine, and a servo (stealthily attached to the skeleton’s jaw). When someone is detected on the exterior, the interior Raspberry Pi would trigger the LED lights, shoot a puff of fog, and move the skeleton’s mouth to bring the room to life.
Skeletons In A World Of Cyborgs
Emergent technology is booming – room scale virtual reality is finally in the mainstream and Magic Leap recently released their state-of-the-art mixed reality headset, Magic Leap One. What most interactive creators don’t realize is analog technology can be just as engaging and is constantly making leaps and bounds in becoming more accessible to non-engineering makers.
Analog input systems are generally comprised of a microcontroller (ie. the Arduino Uno, Raspberry Pi), a breadboard, and a smorgasbord of sensors, wires, resistors. All this hardware is cheap to purchase, and the maker community has a massive amount of tutorials and tools available to help non-developer/engineer interested creators. Additionally, the types of sensing available is incredibly vast – from your basic buttons detecting a user’s physical press to gyroscopes detecting the precise angle an object is titled.
Life’s A Glitch, Then You Die
For the development side, we first started by prototyping the different room ambient effects. The LED stripe was the simplest to develop due to the FastLED Arduino library. For the fog machine, we opened the timer unit and installed a relay switch so we could custom control when and how long the fog machine would burst. Finally, after several days of building paperclip prototypes, we connected a micro 180º servo onto the saw hidden in the inside of the skeleton’s skull.
Simultaneously, the interactive development team worked on creating a web app that used Google Chrome’s speech to text library, and that could run off a Raspberry Pi. They created a system for using .wav files and playing them back to users through the speaker. They attached an ultrasonic sensor to the Raspberry Pi to be able to detect if someone was in range. Finally, they developed a way to send information from one Raspberry Pi to another so that the room ambient effects could be triggered from the exterior wall.
It’s Alive, It’s Alive!
After each piece was working independently, it was time to wrangle it all together. Our copywriter wrote up some Nashvillian Magic Eight Ball responses for us to record, we painted a beautiful carnival-style window painting to frame our mannequin, and we began to merge all the hardware. After a few long hours and a full bag of candy, Blake Skelton was finally alive – predicting the future for those willing to seek it.