interactive data sculpture
interactive data sculpture

A Matter of Scales

an interactive data sculpture

representing illegal shipments of pangolins

Laser cut scales represent data points

One-hundred fifteen scales map by area to the number of pangolins represented in a single illegal trade shipment seized

Interactive scales via capacitive touch

Scales sense when a person touches them, sending a signal to a second, on-screen data visualization

Scales help explore data

Touching a scale focuses on that data point within an on-screen geographic data visualization

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Where can I find it?
A Matter of Scales was commissioned by the University of Iowa Mobile Museum. Currently, it is installed for the 2018 traveling season, running April through October.
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Where did the data come from?
The data was collected and provided by the Environmental Investigation Agency.
Kevin Ripka
Who built it?
The data sculpture was created by Kevin Ripka, an assistant professor at the University of Iowa who specializes in data visualization, science communication, and interactive design.
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How is the data sculpture built?

The scales are made of thermoplastic sheets called Worbla that have been laser cut to map the area of a scale to how many pangolins in the shipment are represented by a data point. Each scale then has a piece of window screening hard-wired to a capacitive touch sensor.

Four sensors, allowing for up to 48 scales, are connected to an Arduino Uno. With 115 interactive scales, three arduino unos connect to an Arduino Mega, which in turn connects to a computer running a node web server. When a scale is touched, an event is emitted with sockets to a web page running the geographic data visualization.

Scales are finished off with gesso. The head, legs, and arms are sculpted with thermoplastic pellets.

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