Arduino, Physical Computing,
Interactive Installation


A collaborative physical computing project between Fue Yang and myself exploring the presence of the viewer. In its passive state, Breath is a dark, empty room. Only when a participant enters, is the space transformed.


Project Duration: 2 Weeks

Breath is a collaborative project between Fue Yang and I exploring the presence of the viewer. In its passive state, Breath is a dark, empty room. Only when a participant enters, is the space transformed. A fan turns on, and a projector shines on a silken sheet, projecting a human form emerging and dissipating within a few seconds.

Breath was designed as a contemplative space for its participants. The central concept behind Breath was for audience to think about the power of simply being present. In their absence, the project ceases to exist. As the participant wanders through the darkness, a moment of serendipity is sparked when they unknowingly activate the PIR sensor.

We hoped to create an experience that was meditative with room for discovery and critical engagement. With these goals in mind we chose a black silk sheet that was suspended from the ceiling and matched the height of the room to create a seamless and minimal appearance as it blended into the rest of the space. Another advantage of using silk was its light weight and responsiveness to the fan's currents, constructing beautiful forms in the wind. We also chose an older fan model for its comforting and relaxing drone.


The work is activated when someone enters the space, turning the PIR motion sensor 'on'. This 'on' input is sent to the Arduino and a digital signal is sent to Processing via Arduino Firmata. This causes two reactions simultaneously. When the 'on' signal is sent to the powerswitch tail, the fan turns on and blows into the fabric. At the same time an animation projects on the fabric.

One of our hardest challenges after figuring out the basic circuitry and functionality of the hardware and software was transferring all the wires and sensors onto the small surface in the back of the room. A narrow, wooden panel on the ceiling connected and held our breadboard, arduino, mac mini, powerswitch tail, extension cords, and HDMI cord together. Our response to this challenge was to consolidate space through very controlled and organized wire management systems, securing them together with zip-ties, etc.


Fortunately our hard work was well received and our main message translated to the viewers. Some improvements that could be implemented for future installations of Breath include a longer animation, and more consideration of audio. The fan provides such a relaxing, natural white noise, that adding another layer, such as the sound of running water, could really teleport our viewers outside of our black box. Scale is also another element we could enhance in the second version. How does the project change if their are three sheets, with three different animations, and three fans blowing? What happens if our sheet was powered by a stronger, industrial fan? Is the discovery of the work in the dark more effective with a bigger room, leaving our audiences in darkness for longer? Any project has room for improvement, but as our first major Arduino project, we were very satisfied with the outcomes.