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Digital art embraces mechatronics to spectacular effect

28 February 2012

‘Geometry’ is a new light sculpture that is currently lighting up the night sky over Brentford. It is set to act as a beacon for this part of West London until the culmination of the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. Switched on early last month by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, this eye-catching installation relies on a carefully programmed mechatronic system comprising geared servomotors and inverter drives supplied and commissioned by Bonfiglioli

With clear conditions, if you’re one of the 48 million or so passengers that will fly in or out of Heathrow airport between February and September this year, you’ll be treated to an amazing digital light display emanating from the Watermans Gallery in West London.

The display is a creation of the French artist Félicie d'Estienne d'Orves and marks the start of Watermans’ International Festival of Digital Art. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games have inspired this festival of ground-breaking installations, exploring interactivity and participation in new media and digital art.

The work of six international artists will be showcased in a year long project that is designed to stimulate debate about the impact of technology on art. The light display of Félicie d'Estienne d'Orves, known simply as ‘Geometry’, is a kinetic installation driving two masts that cross (one vertically and one horizontally), on which mirrors are attached. The pre-programmed mirrors turn on a horizontal axis creating geometrical movement. The reflection of the sky in the mirrored blades and the movement of the sculpture itself create different kinetic effects according to the time of day and the season.

At nightfall the signal is reinforced with projections of laser light from the horizontal mast. Laser beam lines will be projected from the Watermans building on to the horizontal mast and reflected from the sky. The programming of the movement of the sculpture means that geometrical forms are created and reach into the sky to a height of more than 20m.

Now the technical bit….
Bonfiglioli was chosen to provide technical support for the installation, working closely with the artist and David Simpson of Show Laser Systems. Previous experience of assisting with unusual applications, as well as an ability to supply everything needed to complete the project from a single source, were key factors influencing the choice of technical partner
Initial contact concerning the project was received on December 13 2011. By December 16 all parties met and the project details and technical specification were confirmed. The inauguration ceremony for the Festival was booked for February 2, so the project time scale was very tight indeed.

In order to achieve the variety of mirror positions designated by the artist a very precise positioning motor system was required with correspondingly complex programming for the inverters. The installation comprises two shaft mounted helical gearboxes, chosen from among Bonfiglioli’s F Series range, and these are driven by direct coupled brushless servomotors fitted with failsafe brakes. The drives are externally mounted and thus open to the elements; consequently they were specified with IP65 protection.

Bonfiglioli Active Cube inverters control the drives and these are located in a specially prepared cabinet. The complex programming sequence necessary to enable the numerous changes of rotational direction to give the desired effect, was easily accomplished thanks to the ‘plug-and-play’ capability of these inverters.

The drives also had to achieve the 24 exact position co-ordinates specified, as well as precisely controlling eight de-synchronisation points of the two reflectors. Close collaboration with the laser architect and the artist was necessary to ensure that the final inverter program produced the desired effect. Bonfiglioli engineers were present during the final commissioning, to ensure that the artist’s concept was fully realised.

The Geometry project has been made possible with a grant from the Mayor of London’s Outer London Fund and is supported by the London Borough of Hounslow. Mayor of London Boris Johnson opened the installation, and it is due run until the end of September 2012.

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