Translating a digital volume into a physical volume

Arduino Computers & Mobile

I love these physical expressions of digital data. Here, a computer trashcan filling up is reflected in an inflating balloon. Empty the trash, and the balloon deflates. Lots of other nice physical computing examples on this page.

Tangible Prototypes Lab

10 thoughts on “Translating a digital volume into a physical volume

  1. balloonboy says:

    only the folder has no limit to its size and the balloon does.

    honest question: what is the point of this? when would this be more beneficial to looking at a numeric representation of digital volume (ie the status quo).

  2. Jay says:

    but how do we know there’s nobody breathing trough a straw nearby? =p

    just wonderin ;p

  3. Apis says:

    Reminds me of the computer tumor that grew in proportion to processor use posted earlier (by a japanese artist I think). :) I very much like unconventional machine interfaces.

    @balloonboy the idea is to illustrate the ballon device obviously. You could easily have a max size and display a percentage of something instead, so the size isn’t necessarily limiting.

    It might be better than a numerical representation because it quickly gives you an approximate idea of a size. If you look at a number, you would have to decode the abstract representation into something useful and remove the unnecessary detail. That takes more effort and skill, and thus it’s less accessible, although it’s also more precise. Sometimes numbers would be preferable, sometimes this, it depends on what you want.

    Besides there doesn’t have to be more point in making something than it being fun and/or educational to do. It’s also worth remembering that if “useful” was the requirement for making things no one would learn anything and very little useful stuff would be made in the end.

  4. Ted Ullrich says:

    @Apis, thanks for all the positive feedback! I think you’ve hit the design problem on the head, or atleast my intent for these type of prototypes: a physical representation of digital data is read in different ways and exists for different scenarios than a precise number on a visual display. It means we can be be aware of information in and about our environment without having to be in front of a computer monitor.

    I’m continuing to explore other applications with this prototype – from remaining space on a harddrive, to download bandwidth and processing speed.

    My struggle as a designer who is fascinated with making interactions physical is infact, making them useful. I find so many projects exploring interesting interactions really only have homes in art galleries. However, there is a huge potential to bring smart interactive design to a new era of consumer electronics that people want to buy: ones without screens, untethered from the computer. These devices are ‘calm’ in that they can be read in the center or periphery of our attention, and hopefully don’t require lights and sound to communicate information. They dissolve the current notion of a centralized computer, and are simply ‘everywhere’ in our environment.

    @Jay, the code running the device is available here:

  5. Nour says:

    I have an application for this: an aid to people trying to get away from their computers (to make things of course). While the user is at their computer, the balloon starts filling up at a preset rate. Once it reaches its limit, it will pop. If you don’t want the balloon to pop, take a time out from your computer.

    An excellent and inspiring series of projects, Ted.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. His free weekly-ish maker tips newsletter can be found at

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