January 4, 2010 - Comments Off on Griffin Powermate Grid

Griffin Powermate Grid

This project began when The Barbarian Group did some work for trade with Griffin Technologies. In exchange for some Barbarian made banners, Griffin sent back product. I asked for 100 Powermates and within a couple weeks, they arrived. Aaron Hatcher, one of our interns at the time, was given the task of finding a way to get Processing and the USB controlled powermates to talk to each other. After a great deal of head scratching, he found a way to allow Processing to receive input commands from the powermate knob, and also to send a number from 0 to 255 to the powermate to control the brightness of the internal LED which gives the powermate its characteristic glow.

An 8x8 grid of powermates was hooked up to a single Mac G5 tower through a daisy-chain of 21 four-port USB hubs and 6 power strips. I now had a low-res (8 pixels by 8 pixels), low-color (256 shades of blue) monitor whose individual pixels were an input device for itself. Now what.

The first project made with the new Powermate grid was a noisy mess. Each powermate can be turned left or right and I used this input information to not only control the brightness, but also to control the frequency of a sine wave tone associated with that particular powermate. What you are left with is 64 overlapping sine wave tones which, combined with a nice set of speakers with a good subwoofer, can create a fairly intense wall of noise. Can range from incredibly annoying to incredibly soothing. Later versions included a series of scales which would allow the sound to take on particular flavors, such as American Jazz or Middle-Eastern. And with some assistance, a beat generator was added to give the sine wave tones a bit of rhythm.

Later, I was sitting around, staring at these devices, and wondering what I should make next. I picked one up and was turning the knob absent-mindedly, and it brought back memories of playing pong with paddles as a child. I made a game of pong. Not a particularly good one. Because of the low resolution of the display, even if you leave your paddle stationary, you still have nearly a 50% chance of returning the shot.

Published by: Robert Hodgin

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