September 2015

The latest project from Pixie Labs brings to life a digital art exhibition at Somerset House.

6 exhibits.
42 deliveries.
250 metres of wiring.
1,000 parts.
7,200 lines of code.
One awesome exhibition.

In April this year, Twitter UK announced a competition called #PoweredByTweets: The Challenge. The idea was simple — members of the public were invited to come up with an innovative or beautiful Twitter-powered invention. The top six ideas were selected by a panel of judges to be turned into real-life working prototypes featured at the London Design Festival.

Pixie Labs was delighted to be selected by Twitter as the build partner for #PoweredByTweets. Our job was to creatively translate all six ideas into working hardware and software protoypes, ready for public display at Somerset House.

For the last three months we've been beavering away at Pixie Labs HQ building the exhibits. We started with a prototying and design phase, whereby each idea was sketched out in higher and higher resolution until we got to a build-ready visualisation. We worked closely with Bureau de Change who provided the visual look and feel for the overall exhibition.

Then we got to work on the actual production. Each of the six prototypes has a core software architecture which powers the exhibit. We used cloud hosting services such as Amazon Web Services and Heroku to host the core "brain". Additionally, each of the exhibits uses one or more local servers in the gallery.

Hardware circuit design was always on the cards, and #WordByWord probably takes the cake for the most intricate circuitry. We designed a custom circuit board which we hand-soldered in the office due to the quick turn-around required. Over 588 solder joints in total, and 125 metres of wiring. #TweetTaps also has a custom circuit and a magnetic reed switch to detect motion of the water pump's handle.

There is a range of software technology behind the exhibition. Some of the exhibits rely on high-frequency real-time connections to the Twitter API, such as #PutRedBack and #WordWatching. Other exhibits like #SocialMindscape and #PigeonPatrol use a conversational AI library to let users talk to a Twitter bot. For #WordByWord, #TweetTaps and #PutRedBack we wrote a lot of low-level C code.

Overall, we wrote 7,200 lines of code in 5 languages deployed to Linux, Windows and Arduino!

We're incredibly proud of the exhibits and we really enjoyed working with Twitter UK, Bureau de Change and London Design Festival on this innovative and cutting-edge exhibition. Hope to see you at Somerset House between 21 and 27 September 2015.

Project credits

  • James Greenaway — Chief Cookie Officer. Visual design, effects animation & front-end software development. Installed 98% of all known npm packages.
  • David Somers — Chief Out Of Office Officer. Back-end development, data wrangling, circuit design and Lord of the Servers. Wrote most of the code while on holiday.
  • Alistair MacRobert — Chief Skateboard Officer. Photography, design, colour tests, inky fingers & construction. Winner 2015 "Most number of visits to a hardware store."
  • Peter MacRobert — Chief Cheerleading Officer. Soldered some stuff, but mostly wrote emails, made coffee and fetched pizza.

External links

All photographs credited to Alistair MacRobert for Pixie Labs.