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  • Writer's pictureDoug Makinson

Hands Free Interactives

Physical, hands-on interaction is a great way to engage people and let them explore rather than just observe. In Covid-19 times touching surfaces can become a source of infection. Regular cleaning regimes may be an option, but being able to interact without touching opens up many possibilities.

In this post I take one of my interactive kinetic artworks and explore how I can control it without making any physical contact.


Cusp is an interactive artwork, a swinging pendulum with a UV laser that leaves a spiraling, glow in the dark trace on a turntable. The audience grabs the pendulum, gives it a swing and can use the manual switch and knob to turn the turntable on and to control its speed to vary the pattern.

To let the visitors interact with the sculpture without touching, I have mounted the pendulum on a motorised arm and wired the turntable and laser so that they are under the control of hands free floor sensors.

The original hands-on controls

  • Turntable start

  • Turntable Speed

  • Swing the pendulum by manually grabbing it.

New non-contact foot controls - just stand on the symbol

  • Turntable Start

  • Laser On/Off

  • Pendulum swung by motorised arm

Place your foot on the symbol to activate the control.

Each symbol has a movement sensor above it tuned to a narrow field of view so that multiple controls can be 200mm apart.

The three sensors are mounted under the table looking down at the icons stuck to the floor. This leaves the exhibit self contained and the icons can just be vinyl stickers on the floor. Completely bombproof, no moving parts to break!

In this application I make 3 separate controls work independently as close together as possible. The sensors can also be tuned to work over several metres and detect your whole body.

This video clip shows the switches in action:

The sensors are very robust and reliable. I have a dozen of them installed in an outdoor artwork called Time and Tide at Kaipara Cost Sculpture Gardens where they have been working well for the last 18 months.

The sensors could be retrofitted to an existing exhibit either by directly replacing a manual switch or providing a logic signal to a controller.

I am happy to explore any possible applications and make suggestions, please get in touch.

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