Bringing It Together: The Interactive Garden’s Finale

Two weeks ago, serious construction of the interactive garden began. It was crunch time. Our 2450 LEDs had arrived, along with 3180′ of plexiglass rods. We got to work.

First, we drilled the holes in each board. We used a CNC machine to do the work. One of the wizards in the CNC machine’s software helped provide a base for the program. I had to edit the file that the wizard generated to get it doing exactly what we wanted. After a few fixes, we got a file that did the trick. On the first pass, it drilled holes for the LEDs, about 1/4″ deep, in the wood. We then changed the drill bit and ran another pass, this time drilling all the way through the wood. Each run took about a half an hour so this consumed the entirety of one day.

Building the Interactive Garden

Once the holes were drilled, we placed the LEDs into the holes with a bit of silicone to hold them in place… and then waited for the silicone to set. Once the adhesive was dry, we were able to solder the LEDs together using this layout:

Building the Interactive Garden

It was a lot of work, but we got it done.

Building the Interactive Garden

Building the Interactive Garden

The next part to get working on was the frame. Chester came up with a lightweight design and got the wood. The LED boards we just finished would rest on the slats.

Building the Interactive Garden

We moved on to work on the aluminum flowers that have touch sensors on the ends to trigger a note when they’re touched. I’d already put together each rod with an LED affixed to the end of a USB cable, tulle, and a shrinkable plastic cap. On the wooden frame, we drilled eight holes. There’s a 2×4″ length of wood underneath for support. Getting the holes the perfect size was difficult, but not impossible. We ended up using epoxy to secure the aluminum rods in the base. After that, we attached the touch sensor via a capacitor to the aluminum rod and plugged it into an interface kit. We put the LEDs into the digital outs of the same interface kit.

Building the Interactive Garden

Next, it was more manual labour, cutting the plastic rods into 18″ pieces, placing them into the boards and affixing them with epoxy.

Building the Interactive Garden

Vibration sensors were affixed to the bottom of each LED board as well. A special plexiglass rod was siliconed to each sensor so that we could ensure detection of motion. Once connected, each vibration sensor would need calibration as some picked up on very slight vibrations, while others required a lot more movement to send a signal.

The final step was wiring everything up. Each block of LEDs was hooked to a power supply sending 28 volts of power to the circuit. The vibration sensors were connected to an interface kit, and all the kits were connected to a computer running the program written in Max6. For those keeping track, that’s four interface kits, an LED controller, fourteen vibration sensors, sixteen touch sensors and a whole lot of LEDs.

Building the Interactive Garden

We screwed on the fence boards and the job was done! We loaded it onto a truck and took it down to Beakerhead.

Find the whole journey by following the interactive garden tag and don’t miss all the pictures and videos from the final presentation.


Math lover. Engineering communicator. Mad-lib enthusiast. Total nerd.

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