Particle Flow

Particle Flow


Particle Flow is a kinetic motion study. Granules are driven by gravity and topography forming an analogue particle system. A moving slanted plane and a grid of motorized stamps control the elements to form infinite variations of behaviors and patterns. The result is a zen-like experience that is both: fascinating and contemplative.


What have you made?

Particle flow is a kinetic installation comprised of granules driven by gravity and topography forming an analogue particle system. A moving slanted plane and a grid of motorized stamps control the elements to form infinite variations of motion patterns. Software controlled motion follows a complex choreography and enables precise steering of physical particles in a variety of ways: from subtle to obvious, from slow to high paced, from random-like to symmetric.

What gave you the initial inspiration?

For a fair we were asked to create a memorable project featuring synthetic granules. Initially we built a quick and dirty prototype and put granules on a hand-driven slanting plate. We immediately were captivated by the physicality of the granules resulting in an analog particle flow, so we embarked on a journey to further explore the forces that could drive complex behaviors within the particle system. This is how we work best: We let an idea inform a prototype that drives the next idea. It is through this iterative process that we find unexpected behaviours that inspire us.

What is the original idea behind this project?

The main idea was to have a particle flow of “real” granules on a moving slanted plane. In the beginning we also simulated the later kinetic installation using Processing ( In the simulation everything went very well, but when it came to computing the physical, a million variables had to be figured out. Through several iterations the project went from sound waves to magnetic attraction, from vibrating shakers to a controllable topographic landscape.

How does it work?

The custom-built mechanics that tilt the plane are driven by three stepper motors, an Arduino UNO and AutoDriver motor drivers from SparkFun based on the ST Micro L6470 chip. A grid of 19 motorized stamps is attached to a flexible textile to form the dynamic topography. Each stamp consists of an analog servo motor and a simple gear wheels mechanic. All servo motors are controlled by one Arduino MEGA 2560. The communication between software and hardware is realized with an Arduino Ethernet, which forwards the signal to the other boards via SoftwareSerial.
The motors are driven by software realized with Processing and Arduino. In the pre-production we used a MIDI controller to manually trigger and adjust several motion presets and recorded these sessions as JSON files. For the final installation the software randomly picks a pre-recorded session and sends the control commands to the mechanics via ethernet (UDP).

How long did it take to make it real?

From the initial idea to the final installation around half a year passed, but we didn’t work full-time on the project.

How did you build it?

The main construction tilting the plate and carrying everything is built from off the shelf aluminum profiles. Attached to three pillars are motor driven sleds that lift struts connected to the plate. Each strut has a hinge at the bottom and a spherical joint mounted to the top. For safety and calibration reasons we added switches to both ends of the sled tracks.

The plate carrying the granules consists of a framed baseplate featuring a grid of hexagonal openings. Underneath is a construction that provides structural integrity and carries 19 servo motors attached to simple gear wheels mechanics with movable stamps. Mounted to the stamps are hexagonal plates. Everything but the gear wheels is laser cut from lightweight plywood. We then attached a very flexible textile with a high portion of elastane to the plate and glued it to the stamps.