Biomimetic Butterflies

Laser cut paper butterflies that flap their wings when you approach.

Biomimetic Butterflies was an installation by the barbarian group of butterflies laser cut out of paper. The installation combined laser cutting, the open source programming language Processing, open source Arduino hardware, and a Mac Mini with a webcam.

The wing patterns were designed with Processing using algorithmic design techniques. Essentially, the patterns are generated mathematically using random numbers within user-defined constraints. The barbarian group made five “families” of wing patterns using five types of algorithms–voronoi, flow lines, intersecting lines, cracking, and circle packing.

These patterns were then laser cut out of heavy drawing paper, connected in pairs with a fabric hinge, and pinned down after having tiny rare earth magnets attached to them. Hidden inside the pedestals are larger magnets attached to motors controlled by a central Arduino board.

Controlling the Arduino board is a Mac Mini with a web cam that “watches” the people viewing the installation. When people approach, the wings start to slowly flap. The motors inside the pedestals are very quiet and there are no mechanical parts showing, so the effect is somewhat surreal when viewers see these obviously fake butterflies flapping their wings with no discernible cause. Here’s a video of the butterflies in motion.

Overall, this is an impressive combination of digital manufacturing and open source computing seamlessly integrated with each other and the environment. Be sure to check out the barbarian group’s portfolio. They do marketing and web development using cutting edge technology and design our of New York City, San Fransisco, and Boston for a list of major companies.

If you’re interesting in learning more about Arduino open source hardware, start with the official site and our previous coverage of 3D printed cases and open source controllers. Even kids can do it!

Via: Flickr

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4 Responses to “Biomimetic Butterflies”

  1. Guy Blashki Says:

    Even before they start moving, these butterflies are stunning. But when you go adding magnets in an interactive installation, the effect is quite striking.
    Great stuff.

  2. Taylor Gilbert Says:

    Yeah, the butterfly wings alone would be impressive. This is definitely one of the most successful combinations of these technologies I’ve seen.

  3. SketchChair « Ponoko – Blog Says:

    [...] or some of the projects using Processing we’ve covered like these laser engraved patterns, paper butterflies, and honeycomb [...]

  4. Free Course on Processing and Arduino « Ponoko – Blog Says:

    [...] Processing and Arduino come up pretty regularly on this blog. We can’t help it; there are just too many incredible things being done with them. Just look at this chair-generating software or this amazingly elaborate laser engraved artwork. These are two totally different projects, both accomplished with Processing. What Processing does with software, Arduino does with hardware, and the best thing is that they can be used together, like for these butterflies. [...]