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Space Scyphozoa

The Space Scyphozoa (jellyfish) is a flying semi-autonomous balloon structure that senses the proximity of objects in its path and reacts in various ways based on how close it is to the object. Its mobility is controlled by a fan unit comprised of three fans and by buoyancy from the helium balloon body structure.

The decision to pursue this design was inspired by a video by Charles & Ray Eames that displayed the beautiful movement of a jellyfish through water. Its design is not intended to solve a design problem, but instead was motivated by a personal interest to attempt to replicate the movement and behavior of the jellyfish through a constructed man-made object that would be designed and equipped to behave on its own.

January 2004 to May 2004
[Space Scyphozoa (Cy-fuh-zoh-uh)]

Awareness, Action, & Interaction
School of Design, Carnegie Mellon University

The main structure of the Space Scyphozoa in comprised of three balloons. Two primary balloons are made of the standard ‘Mylar’ material found in party balloons (actually the material is 1.5 mil metalized nylon), white in color, and a round “UFO” shape 36” in diameter with 2.25 oz. lift capacity. A third “O” shaped balloon, purple in color, made of the same material sits in between the two primary white balloons, acting as a nest and adding the additional lift required to carry the fan unit, sensors, and applicable circuitry.

I also constructed and soldered my own circuit board that included the BASICStamp 2 chip and the appropriate circuitry to receive input from an Ultrasonic Range Finder which was mounted on the outer rim of the purple “O” shaped balloon and was used for determining the distance of objects. My circuit board was hard-wired directly into the remote control circuit board used to control the fan unit. Each of the control buttons used to operate the direction of each fan was bypassed and connected to a PIN on the BASICStamp. Distance values were received from the range finder. Based on the distance, commands were issued from the BASICStamp to the remote control, which broadcasted the appropriate signal to the fan unit. All of this circuitry (my circuit and the remote control circuit) were located inside the top half of a square, flat polystyrene foam food container attached directly to the bottom balloon. The fan unit was attached to the polystyrene container. The range finder sensor was used to establish zones of distance from the Space Scyphozoa. Based on the distance, the Space Scyphozoa would respond differently. The following ranges resulted in the associated behaviors:

Range Behavior:

0’ – 1’
“Way too close—freak out” / Spin counter clockwise for 3-4 seconds then slow down the spin by reversing the fans.

1’ – 3’
“Too close” / Move backwards as long as an object is within this range.

3’ – 4’
“Stay still” / Do not move and wait to see if the object is getting close or moving away.

4’ – 6’
“Intrigued” / Move forward as long as an object is within this range.

6’ or more
“Exploring” / Assorted brief fan movements to keep the Space Scyphozoa in motion when there is nothing within range.