Alex Carroll
Industrial Designer. Human Being.
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Kairos

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Kairos

(GREEK) KAI•ROS
: A PROPITIOUS MOMENT FOR DECISION OR ACTION

Kairos is an ambient, desktop timepiece that communicates the passage of time with light

 
 

Humans have been monitoring time based on a cyclical, numeric system for thousands of years. Presently, we find ourselves surrounded with a myriad of watches and clocks, even sacrificing precious body real estate to always know the exact time. Time is often our first thought when we wake and our last thought as we drift to sleep. With three or four  timekeeping devices within sight at any given moment, we still constantly check the progress of its passage.

 

What if we viewed time differently?

 

 
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Ideation

 

EXPLORATION SKETCHES

Through these initial sketches, I was trying to design a way to tell time without using numbers or a circular path of motion. The ideas generating here varied greatly in form and overall function-- from wall hanging devices, to desktop devices, and even some wearable concepts. 

I began to gravitate toward a desktop device for multiple reasons. At this stage, I saw my product displaying time though a changing in light intensity, something that would be difficult to communicate on a small wearable device. I also realized that the accuracy of timekeeping was not going to be exact so a more ambient, luxury product began to reveal itself in my sketches and ideation. For my final three concepts I decided to produce two desktop versions and one wearable.

I chose to move forward with the cylindrical desktop concept.

 

 
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Prototyping 

This is a rough layout of my final prototype. At this stage I was thinking about overall construction of the product and  how it would fit together and function as a coherent piece. To give the illusion of light moving across a surface, I implemented a system similar to that of the Brittle Star-- a series of concentric circles with individual lights. Each sectional cylinder contains a NeoPixel LED ring that can be individually address by a micro-controller. 

At this stage, I encountered a problem with containing the light within each individual cylinder. Initially, I was going to place each LED ring on a circular piece of acrylic to support and separate the each ring. Acrylic is a lightweight material that is easily cut on a laser cutter to achieve the consistent diameter that this construction would require. However, I discovered that a clear divider like acrylic would allow the light from a single cylinder to illuminate the entire deice thus defeating the purpose of having twelve individually addressed rings.

FOR THE MOMENT I WAS STUMPED...

I decided to move this specific problem to the side while I moved forward with the overall prototype. I often find that removing myself from the problem for a while and working elsewhere helps clear my mind and come up with more creative solutions. 

For me, the most challenging portion of this project was figuring out how to arrange, wire, solder, and program 12 LED rings. This was indeed a difficult process because I had absolutely no prior experience working with wiring, soldering, or any kind of programmable electronics. I started with the basics, learning how to connect and test a single LED ring. Early on, I fried a controller because of my misplaced wires which caused it to overheat and burn. As I began testing each LED ring, I made sure to place it inside the mylar housing that would act as the outer housing on the final prototype. This gave me an idea of what the final diffused effect would be like and if I needed to make adjustments. 

Next, I began soldering the 12 LED rings together. This stage took lots of planning and patience (and band-aids, if I'm being totally honest). I not only had to worry about every individual solder being just right, but also how each wire was strategically run to the next solder point while considering how this would feed through the entire construction. 

IMPORTANT LESSON LEARNED: always, always, always test your connections AS YOU GO. Don't wait until you're finished to find that some unknown wire is not connected properly. It sucks and it takes a long time to find and fix it.

 
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I chose a nice piece of walnut for my base and top. Walnut is a naturally dark wood that has a distinct and vibrant grain structure. I wanted the wooden parts to have a hand-crafted, custom feel -- not massed produced-- so I turned them on the lathe by hand. 

After sanding, I treated the wood with teak oil. Teak oil brings out the natural grain in the wood without adding shine to the surface... plus it smells nice.  

 

 
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Assembly

After a period of trial and error, I came up with a simple solution to my problem with the clear plastic dividers. Using metallic spray paint, I coated each side of the acrylic dividers creating a reflective surface. This solution keeps light from creeping into adjacent chambers and increases the light reflected to the Mylar housing. In retrospect, this seems like an obvious solution and one I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit took so long to come up with. 

With all soldering and manufacturing complete, the next step was assembly. Using a dowel rod as a center support, I stacked and separated the individual LED rings with the sprayed acrylic. For the outer housing I used a wrapped piece of Mylar that I measured to fit into the wood base and top. It diffuses the light while remaining lightweight and unobtrusive to the design.

After assembly, the only thing left to do was code a simple timer sequence for each of the LED rings. Because there are twelve rings, each ring takes 30 minutes to fully fill with light before moving on to the adjacent cylinder. Thus, the light bar fills and empties in one twelve hour cycle. Two cycles, white light for day and blue light for night, represent the passage of a single day.

 

 
 
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FINAL

 
 
 

This project has been an exciting exploration for me as a designer. Normally wanting to just skip to the finished product, I learned how to operate within the design process from start to finish--something I have been struggling with up to now. I also picked up a variety of technical skills while working my way through this design problem.

 

Areas of difficulty:

Being patient with the process of designing, not cutting corners
Learning to solder and code then applying it to such a complex

Areas of success:

Found a way to communicate time in a different way
Aesthetic and function of object are exactly as I had planned
Proud of the level of craftsmanship and finish I was able to achieve