Feb. 17-26: Interactive sculpture lets viewers blow ROBOBBLEs


By Zahra Debbek, Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture

PULLMAN, Wash. – A phrase not often heard at exhibits, “Please touch the artwork,” was on the lips of Saleh Kalantari at a recent opening of the interactive show, ROBOBBLE. The exhibit will be on display again Feb. 17-26 in the gallery of Carpenter Hall at Washington State University.

Combining the fields of interior design, architecture, art, computer science and robotic engineering, “this installation blurs the boundaries between designer and user,” said Kalantari, assistant professor in the WSU School of Design and Construction (SDC). “It explores the possibilities of real-time adaptation in design, materiality and form.”

Schematic of how ROBOBBLE works with smartphone app.

The playful installation is a spandex fabric shell covering a spherical core that looks something like a dandelion seed head. Inside the core, microcontrollers sense instructions from viewers’ smartphones and respond by moving the projecting arms and panels of the core. This makes the cloth shell look like a bubble that is continually shifting form.

The shell has the capacity to expand up to 2.5 times its resting size, allowing the sculpture to take on a variety of forms and scales. Viewers interact by touching it and by changing it via a smartphone application.

The purpose is to demonstrate new ways of bridging the digital and physical worlds. The designers aim to merge formal studies in digital spaces with hands-on conceptualization in the physical world.

While Kalantari and Ebrahim Poustinchi, a research associate in the SDC, took on design, construction and presentation of the project, the WSU Robotics Club provided technical resources for programming and wiring.

“The app works to perform basic movements such as push, pull and extend,” said Marcus Blaisdell, a School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science student and Robotics Club member. “Audiences can select an arm on the ROBOBBLE core and they can extend it or retract it.”

Kalantari, Poustinchi and Blaisdell hope to show ROBOBBLE in national conferences and exhibitions. And they plan to keep improving it.

“For example, we can make it more interactive in terms of responding to touch and through light sensors and sound sensors,” Blaisdell said. “We can make it more interactive with the environment surrounding it.”



Saleh Kalantari, WSU School of Design and Construction, 509-335-1336, saleh.kalantari@sdc.wsu.edu

Tina Hilding, WSU Voiland College of Engineering & Architecture communications, 509-335-5095, thilding@wsu.edu