Category: Progress

Presenting SWARM at the Desert Arts Preview

Coreyfro and I will be making a 10 minute presentation about SWARM at the Burning Man Desert Arts Preview. Our presentation will be at 9:45 p.m. They might stream the video on the Burning Man web site but I don’t have any more information about that.

Here is the schedule…

Burning Man
2008 Desert Arts Preview
Thursday, July 17th
Burning Man Headquarters
1900 3rd St. @ 16th, San Francisco, CA

Masters of Ceremonies: $teven Ra$pa and Bettie June

6:30-7:00 Wine reception

7:00-7:15 Welcome & Overview of Burning Man 2008 Theme and Artist Grants by LadyBee and Beth Scarborough

7:20-7:30 Mike Thielvoldt and Lira Filippini — Lepidodgera

7:35-7:45 Michael Emery – You Are All So Many Of Me

7:50-8:00 Gene Cooper – Heart of Burning Man

8:05-8:15 Jared Gallardo — The Amazing Jellyfish From The Year 12,000

8:20-8:30 Philip Raiser — Babylon

8:35-8:45 Dadara – Checkpoint Dreamyourtopia

8:50-9:10 Intermission

9:15-9:25 Crimson Rose – Black Rock Arts Foundation

9:30-9:40 False Profit Labs — Pyrocardium and the Hydrogen Economy

9:45-9:55 SWARM — Lee Sonko and Coreyfro

10:00-10:10 Flaming Lotus Girls – Mutopia

10:15-10:25 TuckerTeutsch – Basura Sagrada

10:30-10:40 Questions and Answers

Maker Faire Editors Choice

This was nice. At Maker Faire, Goli Mohammadi awarded SWARM an Editor’s Choice award

editors-choice-maker-faire-2008 img_0948

Burning Man Update

The push for Autonomy continues!

The plan is that SWARM will be dancing -on its own- at Burning Man at the end of August.

That means GPS and inertial measurement systems will work with control software and dance software to…. well… DANCE!

Here’s an abbreviated update that we recently sent to Lady Bee:

Late March:

Finished design of standalone remote controls and purchased PCBs and parts (and other things like replacement SPU domes). Finished new Illuminator boards: now 4/Orb (up from 2/Orb). Retrofitted sound modules with noise reduction and code improvements. Worked on new central computer (7800 model), including kernel and code experiments, daughterboard retrofit. Also some work on Mother Node (central control) software.


“Remote party” to finish assembly and programming of six remote controls. New illuminator code: now individually addressable, smoother color fades, hue/value mode beyond pure RGB. Considerable work on new Aggregator architecture (subsystem that combines GPS location data with incoming control stream).

Helped to build out electronics lab in the Box Shop so we can geek out amidst the Flaming Lotus grinding and welding. Charlie Gadeken will accept work in lieu of some rent. Also organized gear to some extent, and purchased replacement/extra tools and consolidated tools/spare parts in a dedicated toolbox.

Purchased hardware for, and worked on mounting and integrating inertial navigation units and shaft encoder sensors.

Installed and tested new illuminators. Final touches on new remote code.
Installed Aggregator on test Orb.

Major engagements at Yuri’s Night, Coachella Festival and Maker’s Faire:
good gigs for many things. Field-tested new remotes and new Aggregator.
Good visibility and substantial funding for project, not to mention very positive team-building experiences! Discovered finite lifetime of steering sensor bearings (will retrofit with new design). These performances were a major incentive towards autonomy: human remote control is only a halfway measure; the Orbs should and will drive themselves.

Early May:

Full speed ahead towards autonomy: the long push to give the orbs the ability to follow trajectories (whether pre-choreographed or generated
in real time.) Removed old central computers to prepare for upgrade.
Obtained new DC/DC converters to power new computers.

Coachella 2008

SWARM rolled on in to the 2008 Coachella Music and Arts festival and had a great time!

You can find media mentions on Hack-a-Day and Wired.

Photo sets on JDV’s Flickr, Lee’s blog here and here, and Marc’s site! And especially our SWARM In the Media wiki page.

art-of-coachella kraftwerk

What is SWARM?

SWARM is a kinetic art work consisting of multiple semi-autonomous spherical robots (“Orbs”) that roll under their own power. Each has a spherical shell 30 inches in diameter: roughly waist high to an adult. Orb shells were computer-designed and cut from a flat plate of aluminum, then welded together to form an intricate sphere. Inside each Orb are batteries, motors to control speed and direction, as well as an audio system and color LED illumination, all under the command of a powerful on-board computer with wireless connectivity to other Orbs and a central computer called the Mother Node. Orbs roll without external wheels or actuators using the weight of the batteries as a ballast. Motors move the ballast off-center and cause the Orb to roll in that direction. Tilting the ballast away from the roll axis allows the Orb to steer.

SWARM is built to explore the aesthetic possibilities and the emergent behavior of artificial systems. As a first step, Orbs are remote-controlled by human operators, but each Orb’s sounds and color illumination is algorithmically generated in response to location and motion. Each Orb has sophisticated navigational sensors including GPS, accelerometers, and solid-state gyroscopes. We are progressing towards sophisticated navigational algorithms, exactly like those used in spacecraft, that allow each Orb to determine its location and trajectory with high accuracy. From this, we can explore emergent and cooperative behavior like flocking as well as new possibilities in machine choreography. SWARM is not a simulation. SWARM is a platform for the art of the 21st century.

We are grateful for funding and support from the following organizations: Burning Man, the Coachella Festival, and a talented group of volunteer artist-hackers.

Read More

Our home page,
wiki (the entire project is open-source)

Is it Live or Blender?

Jon Foote has been playing with Blender and made this…

He writes: I had a few minutes to play with Solidworks, which is pretty awesome, from my experience with the first tutorial.


I took the opportunity to export the shell model into VRML, which can be read by Blender. Blender is an open-source 3d modeling/rendering program, which is free and pretty powerful, and runs on all OSs. Get it here: (The learning curve is pretty gnarly, so I can’t recommend it totally without reservation.)

Blender lets you add light sources and render things (which may be possible in SW but I don’t think so). So I did a little experiment with internal lights (attached jpg). It’s wrong in several ways (no internal chassis) but it’s enough to get the idea. I may try some different light positions if I get some time (ha ha).

I will check all this into SVN so others can play. You can do animations and move things around if you know what you are doing. Look in the media/blender subdir

SWARM to Perform at Coachella

There is a tentative agreement for SWARM to attend the Coachella music festival this April  25-27th in Southern California!

More info as it becomes available!

Resistance is futile…

Come join the SWARMies. No really, it’s just a mailing list to keep you up-to-date with SWARM performances and parties.
Sign up here:

SWARM VIDA 10.0 Video

We created and submitted a video for the VIDA 10.0 international competition.

VIDA 10.0 is an international competition created to reward excellence in artistic creativity in the fields of Artificial Life and related disciplines, such as robotics and Artiftcial Intelligence.We are looking for artistic projects that address the interaction between “synthetic” and “organic” life”.

In previous years prizes have been awarded to artistic projects using autonomous robots, avatars, recursive chaotic algorithms, knowbots, cellular automata, computer viruses, virtual ecologies that evolve with user participation, and works that highlight the social side of Artificial Life.

This video is also available on Youtube.

A high quality version can be downloaded (mpeg4, 1kbps, 74megabytes)

A (0.5 gb) DVD quality version of this video is also available for the asking.

A few pictures from Decompression

I linked them back to the Flickr pages from whence they came… go there to see more

LouiseBrooks theme byThemocracy