final data monitor

Practical project step 7: The finished product

The Friendly Data Monitor was now ready for action! I checked everything was working, and posed it for a photo shoot…

Meet our friendly data monitor

Below are some photos of the final product – a charming, quirky analogue/digital data monitor with attitude! His ‘eyes’ show the data that is being monitored. The data CD in the front ‘mouth’ slot represents a way of loading historic data into the monitor, while the aerials on top of the monitor represent a way to connect to the Internet.

There’s a hole in the back panel to turn on the power bank, and the battery can be reached from underneath, or by unscrewing the back panel (just three screws hold that on) for easy maintenance. He even has some funky earrings, just for a bit of extra personality! You can imagine that if a monitor like this was used in a corporate environment, the staff could have fun personalising it/him/her in different ways.

The data monitor in action

The video below shows the data monitor displaying data on both dials. The left dial shows fluctuations around the central zero point, to simulate customer opinion ratings. The right dial shows a gradually increasing amount (with minor ups and downs) to simulate progress against a target (eg fundraising). When the target is reached, the dial resets to zero after a few seconds delay.

Learning points

What would I do differently if I were to do it again?

  • start with the core function – in this case, the dial pointers that attach to a servo motor – and find the best way to mount them first. Then fit the brass dial cases around them as decorative elements, rather than trying to fit the motors into the dial cases (which proved difficult due to the uneven surface and oversized central hole).
  • choose materials carefully – a good sheet of flat plywood would have saved me a lot of time and hassle, because the sheet I had was curved in the middle, so was difficult to laser cut.
  • investigate other ways to join panels – using blocks of wood glued or screwed worked reasonably well, but inevitably the plywood has warped a little now. There could be a better way, to make the final fit more accurate.
  • add live data – this would take more time, to learn how to link a data feed into the Microbit.
  • add lights – it would be fun to add some small LED lights to illuminate the dial faces or change colour in tune with the data to highlight changes.
  • learn video production techniques – The presentation video I produced (see below) was my first attempt at creating and editing a movie, and has a number of technical issues (poor sound quality, camera shake, ham acting, etc!). Having better quality video documentation helps to communicate the concept to others.

In summary

The inventor, Steampunk’d

This was an interesting but challenging and ultimately satisfying project.

  • Interesting because I learned so many new skills and had a chance to create something that relates to an area I am interested in (information design and data visualisation). I learned about the potential for using some of the latest design tools and technologies to enhance visual communication.
  • Challenging because of the technical, hands-on skills that were needed, and the level of detail that had to be considered when planning, designing and building the product. Also because I was working with some found objects rather than designing everything from scratch, so had to do a lot of improvising and think of creative ways to solve practical problems related to materials, fixings, and other details.
  • Satisfying because I was able to create something that looked cool and actually worked! And filming the video was an excuse to dress up in some steampunk gear…

Project report & presentation

  • Download the project report: Friendly Data Monitor (PDF, 2.1 mb)
  • Watch the video: this tells the story of how the friendly data monitor was invented, by going back to the time that inspired Steampunk, then looking ahead to the present to see which technologies could be applied to help people make sense of information. The video includes clips of some of the production processes. Please excuse the bad acting and variable sound quality from my first attempt at video shooting and editing!

Back to…

Step 6: Coding the Microbit
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