Spanish Design Team Uses 3D Printed Mechanism to Create Images in Water

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img_7040-169x300What is it about water that’s so beautiful and entrancing? On an everyday level, it’s mundane – we drink it, cook with it, clean with it without giving it a second thought – but when we really look at it, it’s stunning. From a seemingly infinite, color-changing ocean to a tiny raindrop that contains rainbows, there’s nothing like water in terms of capturing and reflecting light and color. It’s no surprise that it’s a favorite subject of artists in every medium. But while the imagery of water can be painted, sculpted, and photographed in millions of different forms, the element itself is too ephemeral to actually create artwork with – other than, of course, when it’s mixed with paint or clay, or frozen and carved.

Nothing is impossible, however, especially in the art world, and a group of Spanish designers has come up with a way to create images with water thanks to a 3D printer. Eight members of Base42, a hacker group inside the larger collective Tecnoateneu Vilablareix, created a unique installation for this year’s Temps de Flors festival, a celebration of flowers taking place in Girona, Spain from May 7-15.

At first glance, the installation is merely a man-made waterfall – beautiful, but nothing that hasn’t been seen before in upscale shopping malls and hotel lobbies. As you stare at the silvery curtain of water, however, suddenly images begin to appear – letters, patterns and even flowers falling with the sheets of water and disappearing into the basin beneath. It’s a marvel to look at, and its design is a marvel of technology.

TecnoateneuBannerThe magic of the waterfall comes from 128 3D printed nozzles and 64 3D printed valves. The nozzles release jets of water that fall in a curtain, while the valves control which nozzles operate from moment to moment. Each valve controls two nozzles, and four Arduino Nanos were programmed to command the valves to open and close at predetermined intervals, allowing the water to fall in visible shapes and patterns. A separate Arduino Mega supplies a WiFi connection, and once the Nanos issue their commands, the valves respond within milliseconds, thus enabling the imagery to change as quickly as the water can fall.

eq2Qv2The entire internal mechanism of the water curtain is 3D printed, and building it was a time- and labor-intensive process. 16 print hours were required to complete the valves and nozzles, which were designed using SOLIDWORKS and Simplify3D and then printed in ABS and PLA. Lighting was added to illuminate the water curtain at night and add a bit of extra pop to the images.

According to Base42, they designed the water curtain with its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flower imagery to illustrate the “beautiful but…fleeting” nature of flowers. What better medium to depict that fleeting nature than water, which itself changes from second to second?

“The technology today allows us to…live this magical moment of joy, giving us the beautiful flower in the middle of the water flowing,” states Base42.

Members of the team included Anthony Martorano, Josep Armengol, Lluis Vilarrubí, Martin Fabregas, Jordi Fàbregas, Fausto Zapata, Xavi Mir and Josep M. Escubedo.

The installation is beautiful indeed, and is in itself ephemeral, as it will last only as long as Temps de Flors – for now, anyway. Base42 has expressed that they would like to take the water curtain to other festivals and exhibits, which would be appropriate to their subject – flowers may disappear, but they always come back. Discuss this mix of technology and art in the 3D Printed Valves & Nozzles forum over at 3DPB.com.

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