Dot Matrix Fountain Display

The Osaka Station City shopping mall complex in Osaka, Japan opened a few months ago with a really cool fountain display as one of the features:

(the video gets a little repetitive although the kids’ reactions towards the end are fun)

The fountain works on the same principle as a dot matrix printer – a matrix of solenoid-controlled valves block or release drops or streams of water to create the images. The display is controlled by a PC and with the appropriate image processing algorithm(s), it can be pretty simple to have it display whatever graphic you like. In Osaka, it shows the time and some other pertinent information but also some nice nature and music images and animations. It’s a great example of using technology to fuse art and functionality – I’d love to try to make one myself!

More Floating Orbs!

My floating orb obsession was definitely picqued when I found this project by a student from Clark University. The video quality isn’t the greatest but the idea definitely comes through. Pretty cool concept. If you’re interested here’s the project poster for the piece.


I really hope this is real. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t be, but a few months ago there was a video going around that was pretty awesome, and we all got very excited, only to find out it was fake (still a cool video though).

Anyway, thinking about all the applications for e-paper is making me giddy. I really hope this becomes affordable in the near future. Also, if you aren’t familiar with how e-ink/e-paper works Wikipedia has a really good article.


Not quite Robocop, but still very inspirational. This kind of engineering and design is why I wanted to become an engineer in the first place.

Toyota iQ Car Generated Font

I normally don’t get too excited about fonts.  I’m pretty happy with Times New Roman – go ahead, make fun of me, I can take it.  However, I recently came across a new font that caught my attention.  It is a font made by recording the motions of a car as it “writes” out each letter at the hand of a stunt driver.  The project was carried out by Happiness Brussels, an innovative advertising group in Belgium that has effectively integrated technology into many of their projects.

Beyond being a very innovative way to advertise the handling of a new car (the Toyota iQ), the font development project illustrates a real-world example of an object tracking system. By mounting a camera to the ceiling of the warehouse and attaching colored circles to distinct portions of the car, the specialized software can track the overall position of the vehicle in real time.  Further, it can track the path of each tire as the vehicle moves through space and really adds to the authenticity of the font.  The project effectively conveys the interplay between the physical world and electronics/software.

Check out more here.

Exploding Capacitors

DISCLAIMER: This experiment was conducted in a controlled laboratory environment with the appropriate safety equipment and considerations. DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME!

It is often said that failure is the fastest way to success.  If you’ve ever mistakenly hooked up a capacitor backwards or exceeded the operational voltage, you’ll do your best to never do it again! With this in mind, I thought it would be interesting to intentionally trigger and document the failure of capacitors, an electronic component that we use every day at Pocobor.  I have chosen to focus on one very dramatic failure mode: explosion.  Capacitors don’t often explode, but when they do it is a remarkable event.  Capacitors all have a voltage rating that should not be exceeded (unless you want them to explode), and some capacitors, known as electrolytic capacitors, also have a preferred polarity  (one side is “+” and one side is “-“).  Reversing the polarity of these caps is an easy mistake to make and an easy way to produce an explosion. In this case it’s no mistake, but the result is the same.

In the video, I have intentionally connected two electrolytic capacitors in reverse polarity to induce an explosion.  As I slowly turn up the voltage (off camera), current starts to flow through the capacitor and heat up the interior.  DC current is not supposed to flow through capacitors, a sign of reverse polarity and looming failure.  As the heating causes pressure to build inside the capacitor, the capacitor’s end plug is pushed out of the housing, and it’s only a matter of time before the entire capacitor explodes.

Big takeaways:

  • Care must be taken to stay within a capacitor’s voltage rating  (both positive and negative)
  • Be careful to connect polar capacitors with the correct polarity
  • If care isn’t taken when using capacitors, they have the potential to be very dangerous
  • In the electronics world, capacitors are referred to as “passives”  (along with resistors, inductors, and the up-and-coming memristor), but there is nothing passive about these explosions.  Some very passive aggressive, aggressive passives?


    10uF Electrolytic Capacitor (Reverse Polarity)


    47uF Electrolytic Capacitor (Reverse Polarity)

    “Passage for Peace” Demonstration

    A picture is worth a thousand words, so a 60 second video must be worth 1,500,000 words (assuming 25 frames per second).

    “Passage for Peace”

    Now that I’m back from Milan and a little rested, I wanted to briefly explain the concept we exhibited.

    From the video you’ll notice that there are two identical stands, each with alternating metal and glass poles.  This exhibit is only a small scale model of a much larger concept, both in physical size and geographically. Each stand represents a much larger monument that will exist in a public space in large cities around the world. For example, one of these monuments could reside in San Francisco’s Civic Center, with another monument located near Paris’s Eiffel Tower.

    The exhibit encourages interaction from everyone who passes by and provides the opportunity for people all across the world to interact with one another in the name of “Peace”. The idea is that when someone in one of the cities, for example San Francisco, touches a metal pole, the two adjacent glass poles light up and emit a musical tone. Simultaneously the corresponding glass poles in Paris light up and play the same note played in San Francisco. If someone in Paris then responds by touching the corresponding metal pole being touched in San Francisco (so that in both cities the corresponding poles are being touched simultaneously) the light and tone becomes stronger. If the two remotely connected people hold that touch for a sustained time period (approximately three seconds) the lights will begin to flash signifying a “Peace” event between these two individuals.

    The exhibit also provides the ability to make musical chords locally or between cities. There are twelve metal poles, each producing a note in an octave (C, C#, D, D#, E, F, etc.). For example, if three people working together in different cities create a C chord (C, E, G or metal pole one, metal pole five, and metal pole eight) they will hear the C chord as well as see another unique “Peace” event (a light cascade up and down the installation). However the chord needs to be exact in order for a special event to occur. For example, C, E, G, A (pole one, pole five, pole eight, and pole ten) will not produce a special “Peace” event because that combination is not harmonious. The idea is that it is hard to produce harmony, but once you do it is beautiful.

    The ultimate idea is that through touch, sound, and warmth (light) people will be able to interact with people from faraway lands in a very personal way to promote “Peace”.

    Egg Timer

    This video is a quick demo of a kitchen timer that we developed with Peter Gleason of Red Visor Designs (www.redvisordesigns.com). Peter came to us with a vision for a kitchen timer that would have a clean, elegant design and be extremely simple to use. Though egg-shaped kitchen timers have been around for a while, his design concept was to strip the idea down to its bare essentials – a button, a display, and a buzzer.

    The single button can be used to set, start, or stop the timer. The display tells you how much time remains or, if the timer has already gone off, how much time has elapsed since then. The color of the back-light tells you at a glance whether the timer has a while to go (green), is about to go off (yellow), or has already gone off (red). And, the small size and graceful design (nice work, Peter!) make the device unobtrusive and at home on a crowded counter top.

    Development of the prototype in the video took place in under 2 weeks, with Peter responsible for the product design and mechanical prototyping and Pocobor handling the electronics and software. Another example of a quick but thoroughly enjoyable project!

    24 Hour Design Challenge

    What can we accomplish in a day? Can it prove our value to a dream client? We had the opportunity to find out.

    We were referred to a project manager of a dream client about a potential project. Once we heard a few minor details, our minds started circling around the problem and how we could quickly put something together to fill their need. When the project didn’t materialize as we had hoped, we decided to turn it into a 24 Hour Design Challenge. We took what little we knew about the project and built something in the next day that would showcase the value we could create in a short amount of time. 24 hours later, this was the result (click the detail photos below to enlarge):





    It’s what we do best: integrate electronics, mechanical systems, and computer intelligence to create modern interactive products … all in a day’s work.