Every year at World Maker Faire, we make sure to feature something extra special in the foyer of the New York Hall of Science building, the centerpiece of the fairgrounds. This year, that honor goes to artist Bruce Shapiro and his very impressive Sisyphus project.
Sisyphus is a series of kinetic art sand tables. Many people, on first glance, mistake them for cymatics (using soundwaves to generate patterns in a medium), but these tables are powered by a computer-controlled magnet beneath the table that drives a steel ball around through the sand in pre-determined patterns.
This time-lapse video gives you some sense of how it works and how captivating these tables are in action.
And here you can see what the mechanism under the table looks like.
The controller is a Raspberry Pi 3, controlling a custom stepper motor controller which is driving 2 stepper motors. Bruce calls the entire mechanism he’s designed the Sisbot. You can get the full hardware and software technical details about the Sisbot on the Kickstarter page for Sisyphus where Bruce is offering these tables for sale (at a reasonably affordable price).
One of the things I love about these tables is that, not only is the kinetic art aspect beautiful and captivating, but the tables themselves are impressively designed and built. One technique Bruce used in constructing them was alternative cuts in lengths of thin wood to allow the wood to be curved as seen above. The top edges of some tables are also cut like puzzles pieces, and some have very fancy steel legs/bracing beneath.
If the name Bruce Shapiro is familiar to you, he is the same artist/maker who created the original Eggbot robot for CNC-drawing on eggs. He later teamed up with Evil Mad Scientist Labs to create the Eggbot 2.0 kit.