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The CNC bubble iris makes big soap bubbles in a new way, by weaving soapy strings together and apart with a motorized iris. It was designed to allow large soap bubbles to be made automatically with great repeatability, opening up exciting new possibilities for art, science, and engineering with on-demand soap bubbles of controlled size and timing.

People respond to giant bubbles in wonderful ways. Swirling with colors, shiny and floating, bubbles reveal a microcosm of the surrounding world reflected on their surfaces. When larger bubbles fold and twist, buffeted by eddies, they distort in phenomenally interesting ways too, and can be thought of as airborn, irridescent, morphing fun-house mirrors. People are delighted and inspired by giant bubbles like nothing else. As light and insubstantial as they may be, materially, large soap bubbles carry an awesome payload of inspiration, beauty, and wonder.


In the following instructable, I share my experiences proceeding from the initial inspiration of this invention through a handful of early prototypes and mechanisms, culminating in the version shown here.

Step 1: Why go to the trouble?

You might be wondering why I built such elaborate apparatus, when a rope-loop held up with dowels can make big bubbles much more simply? The construction of this instrument is part of several ambitious projects currently in progress, which uniquely benefit from the consistency, automation, or liquid handling of this instrument.


  • Portraiture: As a photographer, I'm fascinated with sincere and unguarded facial expressions of curiosity and wonder, and giant bubbles bring these out readily. I have begun working on a series of portraits in which my subjects are seen in the moment just before a very large bubble meets their face. Not only are the expressions of people in this circumstance extremely interesting, candid, and generally delighted, but the reflections of their expressions as seen in the bubble show them from a second and very interesting perspective. The ability to create a very large bubble in a controlled position, such as this instrument permits, is a useful tool for this work.
  • Sculpted Fluid Membrane Photographs: I'm fascinated with the idea of deliberately shaping free-floating large single bubbles, by acting on the membrane of a bubble with influences like air and water jets, electrostatic forces, and high intensity electric discharges. This genre is completely unexplored; it does not exist yet. I've done some work towards this already, such as these photos I took of leaves, flowers and water drops being struck by lightning. The ability to produce a large bubble in repeatable position and with known timing allows me to iterate and tweak the influences acting on the membrane. Safety: Also, high voltage and high energy systems are very dangerous, and soap bubble juice is as conductive as saltwater. To blow bubbles oneself in the presence of high voltage would invite electrocution. This machine can make large bubbles when and where I want, remotely.
  • Bubbes-on-Bikes group ride: I enjoy organizing groups of people to ride bicycles and blow bubbles while in motion. A phallanx of bicycles in motion with a wake of such eddying irridescent pearls is a sight to behold! Blowing bubbles from a bicycle in motion is an obvious pairing since the wind past the bicycle means you only need hold the wand up to issue a stream of bubbles. I was inspired to make this device which would allow safe use on a bicycle, without removing hands from handlebars, and which would also be immune to sloshing or splashing problems.
  • Soap Film Condenser Microphone: I'm pretty sure that I can build a condenser microphone out of a soap membrane by placing an isolated conductive mesh parallel the soap film. It could be made very large, and thus sensitive. It probably would not have the highest fidelity, but it would be extremely interesting, and have DC sensitivity down to ridiculously low frequencies bordering on circadian barometric pressure changes. It would also afford the opportunity to "blow-out" your own mic in live performance, e.g. flip the mic around and blow bubbles with what used to be, and will shortly again be, your mic. It is a microphone with a regeneratable diaphragm, and therefore be useful in sensing sound levels which would be potentially destructive to another mic. Lastly, I'm curious how the currents of a liquid membrane would color the sound and self noise of such a sensor.
  • 3D printing on the wind: With the ability to release a bubble at very controlled times, a novel possibility is born: 3D printing patterns of freefloating bubbles on the wind. A 2d array of such mechanisms will face the wind and the third dimension will be controlled by the time at which bubbles are released. Patterns of free-floating bubbles will move together downwind. Of special interest will be the metamorphosis of such patterns as divergent air currents decorrelate the floating pattern.
  • The artist residency at Autodesk and Instructables is a huge honor and inspiration to reach for extremes. Given access to one of the most capable and well-equipped workshops in the world, what is the most awesome thing you would build in a few short months? This is my answer.

Design Objectives:

  • make individual bubbles - including very big bubbles - on cue
  • operable from a bicycle without splashing/spillage: doesn't require a standing pool of liquid
  • adapt to variable wind speed: can work (release bubbles) in a range of wind-speeds
  • release or "pinch off" bubbles with accurate timing.
  • can be remotely controlled, so you can be a safe distance when using bubbles around high voltage.
  • look awesome.
<p>Bravo!</p>
<p>Thanks so much Paolo!! It was invaluable to have your input along the way of making this. </p>
<p><strong>This is insane!</strong> The amount of design and machining to make all these parts and assemble it so flawlessly... amazing. I'm stunned... wow.</p>
<p>Hi askjerry- thanks for appreciating that! It was intended in some part of my mind to be a tour-de-force of manufacturing capabilities, i.e., to take maximum advantage of the fabricating resources at Autodesk's Pier-9 workshop. Here's a cool video about the program; I feel so honored and lucky to have gotten to participate in it! <iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="281" src="//player.vimeo.com/video/102782133" width="500"></iframe></p>
<p>Beautiful design. Really neat idea, watching the iris create bubbles is hypnotic!</p>
<p>thanks! I also find the iris-creation of the membrane hypnotic.</p>
<p>Absolutely awesome job! Well thought-out, great pictures, descriptions, the whole works. The only thing I would change is to fix your usage of &quot;it's&quot; where it should be &quot;its&quot;. Thanks for sharing!</p>
<p>Beautiful work!<br><br>A tiny sidenote: My experience with a few atmegas (UNO and mega) has always been the library can't keep up back 3900-4100 steps/second, not 1.3kHz. So i am curious what else was going on that slowed it down for you. <br><br>My solution to that step limit was crude- just a linear ramp after 3800 steps/second and direct pin toggling. So, only using accellstepper for the nice ramping at the start. </p>
<p>Kinnishian, I used a scope to check the output of the step pin after merely loading a bare-bones accelstepper script so not too much else for overhead; Switching to the cheaper Teensy3.1 afforded a more than necessary increase in speed though - and the Teensy also comes cheaper at only $20. That said, I'd be interested in seeing your code for transitioning from accelstepper control to linear ramping period for the faster portions. Can you paste it here or provide a link? it seems like a worthy topic for writing an instruct able about too, since you know lots of people must also share the problem we both encountered. </p>
<p>I went ahead and posted a short image-less instructable! I don't know if it'll be of any use, but perhaps down the line someone will like it or get an idea from it. </p><p>The whole thing took a while to get together my old code, strip it, and make sure I actually commented things well enough to be understood by anyone looking at it. Makes me admire all the more how much work goes into such a thorough instructable like yours. Unfortunately just in my short tutorial I ran out of time and ill have to consider this current posting a &quot;draft&quot; until I can improve the code presentation and double check the flow. <br>https://www.instructables.com/id/Playing-with-Accelstepper-Code-HodgePodging-for-a-</p>
<p>Errr...This morning I looked again and some of my code tags are suddenly working [I was trying PRE, CODE, and other tags] but new things randomly were added to the text...It's definitively not prime time yet! I'll clean it up a bit more tonight, though. </p>
<p>Interesting that you had that experience with a thorough investigation (scope). I see to recall I based my numbers on crude timing (as what point of step/second max setting was my actuator not decreasing in time to complete its stroke) I also had done some research and found it idly mentioned as 4khz on adafruit forums or maybe the original google group for acelstepper. I can't verify my numbers as well as it seems you did. <br><br>Not being a pro programmer I am always embarrassed posting code but I'll look at it this week and see what I did. It was not perfect but good enough and I think not terrible.Thanks for the encouragement- you're right it might be mildly useful maybe for someone and the thought crossed my mind a couple times. I think I did some simple experiment to estimate how much time my linear ramp code had in overhead then proceeded from there. It'll take me a second to get the code together since I'd like to post it without posting my entire program which is more complicated and I really can't stand by all of my code in it (it was one of my earliest projects.) <br><br>You're right that the Teensy 3.1 is amazing and solves many problems by shear power. When I first was working on my project I almost worked on a ChipKit which is a similar idea, but I think Paul is an absolute powerhouse on software support for the teensies, so I prefer my experiences with the 3.1. Not to make it a battle match, I just mean that I do like the 3.1 as well. </p>
This is absolutely, incredibly, stupendously, seriously, spectacular! Oh my God, to make something so simple from something so complex is just a work of art. Thank you so much for sharing this.
<p>This is sooooo wonderful.</p><p>This inexpensive lazy Susan bearing might be of help:</p><p><a href="http://www.amazon.com/Aluminum-Bearing-Turntable-Bearings-VXB/dp/B0045E0GUQ/ref=sr_1_6?s=industrial&ie=UTF8&qid=1436280081&sr=1-6&keywords=ball+bearing+lazy+susan&pebp=1436280108689&perid=1938H5N9PEC5EWSMVC3Z" rel="nofollow">http://www.amazon.com/Aluminum-Bearing-Turntable-B...</a></p><p>It has a zillion steel balls in it. Replace them with nylon balls and you would be good to go!.</p>
<p>Hi Creative Tinker- I actually did source one of those lazy susan bearings, and the idea of replacing the bearings with nylon or delrin is attractive. However, the V-groove bearings these contain would certainly collect a lot of bubble juice, and persistent juice exposure leads to pitting corrosion, especially on the likely 6061 alloy of which they are made. (5000 series aluminum is more resistant to corrosion in saltwater). I suspect that the open roller design is optimal in the sense of rapidly shedding any surface liquids. </p>
<p>Glorious piece of work! I hope you make the microphone too, that would be very interesting...</p>
<p>Hey Gordon! Really exciting to see the bubble machine on here. And you were in the AIR program! So cool. Hope all is well in the burgh. </p>
<p>Hi Adam! It seems like eons ago we were looking at your laser cut helical springs at TS- nice to see you on here! how's Pittsburgh?</p>
<p>Haha, yes, those were the days! I've actually been living in NYC for close to a year now. Love it here, but miss the TS life in Pittsburgh.</p>
<p>Lovely project - and immense detail in the instructable.</p><p>Did you know you're on Hackaday this morning:</p><p><a href="http://hackaday.com/2015/07/06/worlds-greatest-bubble-machine-born-of-space-program/" rel="nofollow">http://hackaday.com/2015/07/06/worlds-greatest-bub...</a></p><p>Great work!</p><p>Ugi</p>
<p>thanks for tuning me in to that, I hadn't seen their writeup before, cool!</p>
<p>This is really awesome.</p>
this must've taken forever
<p>most certainly.</p>
Yes

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Bio: I'm a guy with diverse interests in San Francisco, CA. I enjoy solving problems, inventing and making things, exploring the unknown, making music, and ... More »
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