wind-up bird(s)

Introducing a new species, the wind-up birds.
The wind-up birds are a flock of mechanical woodpeckers, having found their first home in a forest in Lillehammer, Norway as part of the UT-21 project.

How will nature treat them, with hostillity or acceptance? How will the wind-up birds adapt to heat/cold wet/dry conditions? Will small insects creep inside the circuitry creating possible short circuits, beetles eat the wood, squirrels use the wood slit as nut storage (or the roof as a slide?), birds use it as a shelter, etc.? Will they be treated as foreign objects or accepted into the local eco-system?
How do real woodpeckers react? Are they threatened, attracted, or not bothered? Will they use the roof as a pecking drum?
Initial tests indicate an attraction: it took 15 minutes for a real woodpecker to join a wind-up bird on the same tree.

Adding a layer to the perceived reality:
The sound of the wind-up birds easily fool humans. The initial reaction is surprise, and then bewilderment, as there seems to be a whole flock of birds communicating. Then the curiosity of trying to track them down, to localize the sound, becoming more aware of the surroundings, sharpening the senses.
This was the initial motivation for me, the movement of sound in a space, and the effort involved in trying to localize the source of the sounds which lead to a stimulation of our perceptive apparatus.
By introducing an element or layer which somehow relates to the environment, but still is a bit off (It is very unlikely to hear a flock of woodpeckers drumming at the same time, and it is usually restricted to the mating season in the spring), you perceive the reality differently. This could be called an animalistic alertness, one of the three listening modes described by Barthes  (Listening).
This project is related to my soundpockets project, and as with that work I feel it is somehow more interesting when people happen upon it by chance, instead of looking for a piece of art in the forest.

The development of the wind-up birds have gone through a lot of phases:
It was important for me that the sound produced was not playback of a recorded sound, but mechanically produced, so I looked at many different ways of creating resonance boxes and ended up with a construction resembling a wood block: a piece of wood with a slit. I ended up using a simple push-magnet solenoid for the mechanical part.
The first prototype was an arduino board, the solenoid and the woodblock, trying to find the right pecking frequency for the solenoid, and testing different woodblock designs.
I decided to add a roof, to protect the wood and circuitry from heavy rain.

Since the wind-up birds are communicating, they needed to be in a wireless network. I decided early to use the xbee radios which are programmable, low-energy, high speed radio modems which can work in a mesh network.
A lot of effort was put into creating and deciphering xbee datapackets to be used in the arduino/processing environment.
Energy consumption was an important factor in the project, since the wind-up birds would be in a forest with no access to electricity and should be active for a month. One strategy was to use low-power components. It´s amazing the difference between two voltage regulators for instance when they have to be on for a month(the difference in consumption was the size of the battery I ended up using for the whole project).
I also decided to use a low power version of the arduino, basically just the microcontroller chip running at half speed (which meant using a AVR programmer to program the chips).
The other important factor in reducing energy consumption was to make use of the xbee and arduino´s capability to go to sleep when inactive. I decided the wind-up birds would be pecking about every 5 minutes, and inbetween they would sleep. Also at night they would be sleeping.
After having decided upon the components to be used, I designed a prototype circuit, which was later made into a proper circuit board making it easier to mass produce the birds.
It took a lot of trial and error to get the wind-up birds alive and pecking in the lab, but I had a pretty reliable setup when I placed them in the forest. The challenge in the forest was to find interesting locations within the range of the network, and to find interesting pecking patterns. I ended up making a system where the pecking pattern is different everytime, so it wouldn´t become a simple playback of movement, but a dynamic system.

More images of the wind-up birds

thanks to Tom Igoe, Jeff Mann, Kristian Skjold and Roar Sletteland for helping me realize this project.

Here is a link to the first technical post related to the project, which covers how to program and hook up a atmega168 as a minimal arduino standalone, using the internal oscillator running at 8mhz and 3.3 volts.

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38 Responses to “wind-up bird(s)”

  1. sommer Says:

    amazing project. Looking forward to hear the birds in a forest close to home!

  2. rein Says:

    godt med et så øko-analogt og sjarmerende utputt på sånt et teknisk komplisert prosjekt ;- )
    i en skau nær meg om ikke lenge?

  3. hcgilje Says:

    robothenrik, nice image!
    Don´t know why it doesn´t want to show up in the comments though.

  4. ajsteggell Says:

    Fab! Lovely to see the video. Wish I could have been there.

  5. Aksel Says:

    Cool stuff HC!! Looking forward to seeing and hearing this.

  6. Atle Barcley Says:

    Wonderfull! The idea communicates immediately, but it has a number of conceptual layers – and both the form and the sound is just beautiful. I want this in my neighboorhod!

  7. Make More Money » Blog Archive » Wind-up Bird(s): Robotic Woodpeckers Says:

    [...] that are controlled via a micro-controller. There is a lot more information, and pictures, on the website. How will nature treat them, with [hostillity] or acceptance? How will the wind-up birds adapt to [...]

  8. Daily DIY Network - Science Projects Plans Guides » Blog Archive » Wind-up Bird(s): Robotic Woodpeckers Says:

    [...] that are controlled via a micro-controller. There is a lot more information, and pictures, on the website. How will nature treat them, with [hostillity] or acceptance? How will the wind-up birds adapt to [...]

  9. Wind-up Bird(s): Robotic Woodpeckers | The Kevin Pipe Says:

    [...] that are controlled via a micro-controller. There is a lot more information, and pictures, on the website. How will nature treat them, with [hostillity] or acceptance? How will the wind-up birds adapt to [...]

  10. carle Says:

    Utrolig fint hilsen Carle

  11. Robot Woodpecker Project | only hacks Says:

    [...] Gilje created a flock of robotic woodpeckers as a study to see how nature will interact with them. He calls them wind-up birds, but they are [...]

  12. Robotic Woodpeckers at Robot Living Says:

    [...] Link via (Make) Sphere: Related Content [...]

  13. DIY Projector – Balancing Says:

    [...] It would be an interesting way – I could maybe use the same kind of technology Woodpeckers use not to get a concussion – their brain is suspended in elastics inside their heads.. I have been [...]

  14. Thore Says:

    A great project, triggers my fantasies ( and dystopias ) around our future in nature. Bird robotics and soundscapes that imitates and mimics nature might be what we have to rely to in future…

  15. Panic {RE}_Programming » Blog Archive » Interview with Mitchell Whitelaw Says:

    [...] and material instances of digital systems. A beautiful example of this is H C Gilje’s wind-up birds, a group of mechanical woodpeckers – microcontroller-driven solenoids that tap on hand-made wooden [...]

  16. in the spirit of piksel: a minimal arduino « Conversations with spaces Says:

    [...] starts today, and that gave me an excuse to finally post some of the technical info related to the wind-up birds project. Tomorrow I am giving a presentation of the mechanical woodpeckers at the [...]

  17. Projection Artists « Augmented Engineering Says:

    [...] developed a variety of interesting technical art pieces and production tools. His work on creating mechanical woodpeckers is particularly [...]

  18. Tristan Louth-Robins Says:

    A wonderful, WONDERFUL project! I’m marveling at the simplicity and beautiful presentation of this work – one of the best pieces of recent sound art I have seen. Inspirational!

  19. Hello world! « Tristanlouthrobins’s Weblog Says:

    [...] resonators, actual woodpeckers started communicating with them after awhile! Read about it here: https://hcgilje.wordpress.com/2008/09/04/wind-up-birds HC Gilje’s work always impresses me, I’m a big fan of the blog: [...]

  20. Alethea Lakatos Says:

    Hey very nice blog!!

  21. ste Says:

    hvor i lillehammer står disse greiene? dette ser ut som et kjempegodt prosjekt. håper de “lykkes” i skogen/parken som de er plassert i.

  22. hcgilje Says:

    the wind-up birds left lillehammer in september 2008.

  23. Howie Says:

    “It´s amazing the difference between two voltage regulators for instance…”

    could you perhaps expand on this? What did you go with in the end? How did you make the decision?

  24. hcgilje Says:

    Hi Howie,
    We tested 3 different 3.3 voltage regulators, and measured the current.
    It was interesting to see the difference in specification and actual use.
    we tested the lm2937 which was rated at 2mA, but actual quiescent current was 5.6mA, so approximately 4Ah for a month
    we tested the built-in regulator on the droids xbee board, also rated for 2mA, actual use 7.4mA, for a month this would be 5.33Ah
    The clear winner was the LF33, which is rated at .5mA and we measured it to about .6mA, so for a month only 0.43Ah

    hc

  25. iphone serial communication « Conversations with spaces Says:

    [...] communication working is that it would be very helpful for some of my mobile installations like the Wind-up birds, a network of mechanical woodpeckers, where a lot of the work is setting up a network between [...]

  26. Superstars of the Arduino! » NYC Resistor » Electronics, Hacking, Classes, and Workspace. Says:

    [...] HC Gilje’s wind up birds. Cyber woodpeckers, need we say more about that? [...]

  27. blog blog lbog oasd | winmedia Says:

    [...] communication working is that it would be very helpful for some of my mobile installations like the Wind-up birds, a network of mechanical woodpeckers, where a lot of the work is setting up a network between [...]

  28. Jessie Says:

    hey very good blog

  29. Network Research » Wind-up Birds Says:

    [...] Wind-up Birds by HC Gilje are a flock of mechanical woodpeckers which seem to communicate through sound but in fact use xbee wireless networks. Originally created in 2008 the work is currently showing at Festpillene i Bergen 2010 in Norway until Wednesday the 9th of June 2010. [...]

  30. Wind-Up Birds « xbeeprojects Says:

    [...] Read more about Wind-Up Birds on Gilje’s blog, Conversations with Spaces [...]

  31. Wind-Up Birds by HC Gilje | Eric Forman - Teaching Says:

    […] hcgilje.wordpress.com/2008/09/04/wind-up-birds/ […]


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