The nice people of Good School approached us, asking for a simple showcase what tinkering is all about. Nothing less. So Alex of Tinkerlog and Interactive Matter came up with the idea of Twitballoon. Twitballoon is a simple balloon winch. An Arduino controls a small servo lifting or pulling down a balloon according to Twitter activity regarding a predefined topic. To see it in action head up to the video after the click.
Twitballoon is controlled by an Arduino, permanently performing Twitter searches for a predefined keyword. If it finds a tweet the balloon is released a bit and lifts up. Over time it is pulled down again. So the height of the balloon reflects the activity of that keyword on Twitter. It is much easier to understand if you watch the video:
Twitballoon it is a very poetic way to visualize Twitter activity regarding a topic. It is much easier to comprehend then some dry graphs. It was nice to see how the visualization triggered a nice competition for the chosen keywords Kolle and Rebbe.
Since Alex has done all the hardware just check his Twitballoon post for all the nifty hardware details. If you are more interested in the software side of the project read you can find all the implementation details here.
The heart of the project is the Ethernet Shield and its accompanying library. To make the network setup as easy as possible the DHCP and DNS library was used (don’t know why it is not already included in the Ethernet Library). The Arduino acts as a web client, retrieving its IP via DHCP and resolves Twitter via DNS – this setup is much easier than just using predefined IP-Adresses. The HTTP client is used to perform Twitter searches via the Twitter Search API.
The implementation for the balloon behaviour is quite simple. The Arduino maintains a concept of the current level of the balloon. Every time the search keyword is found on twitter a certain amount is added to the height of the balloon. By this the balloon raises. Over time the height is reduced slowly until it hits zero. If you want to check it out yourself just grab the source.
It is a very simple hack. But in the end it was a beautiful trend visualization. Let’s see if there is an improved version soon.