The Sensory Interactive Garden Show at Beakerhead

Sensory Interactive Garden at Beakerhead

Because of an early snowfall hitting Calgary, the interactive garden rested a day before greeting the public on Thursday morning. School kids rushed in, running their hands through the plexiglass rods, smacking the aluminum flowers, and asking a ton of questions. The response was amazing.

Sensory Interactive Garden at Beakerhead

As the day wore on, my fears of the computer program crashing were assuaged. Group after group were able to interact with the display, creating the sounds of chimes and bells with each hand swish and touch. Because the school groups arrived during the daytime, the light from the LEDs barely carried up the stems of the plastic “grass”.

Sensory Interactive Garden at Beakerhead

Luckily, Beakernight gave us the opportunity to show off the garden in the dark, and it was a huge hit.

Sensory Interactive Garden at Beakerhead

Lines of onlookers awaited to enter the tent that housed the display. People expressed how much they enjoyed the calm of the installation, and how neat it was to be able to interact with it. Some people even expressed interest in making something similar for Christmas.

Sensory Interactive Garden at Beakerhead

A few visitors offered suggestions for sounds. One person wanted to hear a “moo” when they touched a certain section. Others thought it would be fun to do shrieks. On the last day, I reprogrammed the vibration sensors on the LED boards to respond with giggles and the flowers to respond with cries of pain. It was received with  mixed results, but it did make more people laugh than the chimes and bells.

Many people coming by asked what something like this would be used for, what is its application? I usually threw the question back to the audience. People thought it could be used for burglar detection, or a door bell. Some people would use it as a halloween prank (with the shrieks or other spooky sounds). One lady even thought it would be great to put into a seniors’ home or care facility, for people who enjoy tactile interaction and feedback.

Sensory Interactive Garden at Beakerhead

Indeed, there’s a lot of inspiration in this garden, as well as improvements moving forward.

One easy fix I’d implement right away is to make the flowers more playable. Right now, each sound must play out before being activated again. A number of people found this frustrating. I’d have to find a way in Max6 to layer the sound, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to fix.

On an aesthetic level, I’d like to improve the appearance of the flowers, perhaps using metallic petals with glass bulbs instead of tulle and plastic. I think that would offer a more sturdy look to the design.

Some visitors inquired about how the garden was powered. While this version used a gas generator, it would be awesome to hook it up to a solar panel in future iterations.

The biggest problem with the display is the plexiglass rods that break very easily. Over the four days that the garden was out, over 100 of the plastic rods snapped or fell out, requiring me to pluck out the snapped piece from the hole (if possible), silicone the end of a new plexiglass rod, stick it in the hole, and wait for it to set. Because of the epoxy, some rods couldn’t be removed from the board and so numerous bald patches dotted the board. Because the grass needs to remain erect, finding a material that is the perfect balance of flexibility and rigidity as well as unbreakable will be difficult.

Overall, the interactive garden was a great success, and hopefully you’ll be seeing it out again soon!

If you missed it, you can find more posts about the making process by following the interactive garden tag.


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

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