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Joe Bembridge's Arduino-Powered Infographic: An Interview

Gareth Halfacree


The Arduino project has inspired uncountable makers throughout the world, powering everything from robots to games machines. To highlight some of the projects that have been born of Arduino technology, we've asked roving reporter Gareth Halfacree to seek out some of these creations and talk to the people behind the build to get their stories. If you have a story to tell, contact Gareth and he'd be thrilled to chat to you too.

Graphic design student Joe Bembridge, alongside fellow Sheffield Hallam University student Sophie Collins, has in his final degree year created a physical infographic designed to draw attention to the costs of current population growth levels. Using an Arduino Uno board, a series of LEDs, and batteries for power, the informative interactive artwork displays population growth statistics and their impact on the world's resources at the press of a button.

The project formed part of the pair's coursework, prompted by a work of fiction. "We were given a short script titled '600 People'. It was a short story of an astrophysicists' journey into seeking out other existing life within our universe," student Joe recalls. "A point made in the script was that they are 99.5% convinced that there is no other life in the universe other than Earth. This made us think about how precious the earth is and how the impact of over-popularisation is damaging it.

"We made a point to exaggerate this throughout the design process for the infographic, which is what persuaded us to lean towards a computer-based digital clock that could calculate the amount of births and deaths per day and also the total population of the world," Joe explains. "We used statistics to calculate the coding for the Arduino so that it could run on its own, and with the addition of a real time clock it was quite specific on the amount of births and deaths that hour and day."

The physical infographic, designed to mimic the styling of the famous Golden Record sent into space on the Voyager 1 probe, is lit from within using an array of 300 LEDs controlled by an Arduino Uno with added real-time clock module. "We placed all of the non renewable resources at the top and gave each one a curved line with its length being based on how many years it had left before it was estimated to run out," explains Joe. "Coinciding with this we placed the estimated population around the record so that it is clear how the population would grow by the time the resources ran out.

"The Arduino is then powered by batteries and is able to be turned on by a button connected to the frame," Joe describes of his and Sophie's creation, "making it easy for onlookers to turn on and view." To save batteries, the Arduino and LEDs automatically power down after two minutes; the battery-backed real-time clock ensures that the Arduino can keep track of the current time and display an accurate growth rate the next time it is activated by a passer-by.

Impressively, given the quality of the finished project, neither Joe nor Sophie had a great deal of experience with electronics or programming."As two students that haven't worked with an Arduino this closely before we learnt a considerable amount whilst working on the project as a whole," Joe admits, recalling struggling - though ultimately succeeding - with the code require to display a message on a pair of seven-segment LED displays incorporated into the design.

Joe is a self-described convert to the joys of the Arduino platform for this kind of interactive installation. "The way that it could be powered by batteries and could work specifically to what we wanted and our coding made it incredibly easy to tailor it to our needs," he explains. "It is a great bit of kit and we will certainly consider using the Arduino in future projects."

Joe and Sophie's infographic will be displayed at the Sheffield Hallam Graphic Design end-of-year graduate show in June this year.

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