Herb Caen's Giant Interactive Typewriter




Introduction: Herb Caen's Giant Interactive Typewriter

We built a large interactive replica of Herb Caen's "Loyal Royal" typewriter that also serves as a small urban amphitheater. The "keys" also doubled as seats which allowed people to sit, relax and observe the City around them. The underside of the seats were wired with a button that activated an internal speaker that recited a memorable Herb Caen quote any time someone sat down.

Step 1: Materials

  1. 1/8th inch thick wiggle board
  2. 1/8th inch thick plywood
  3. 3/4th inch thick plywood
  4. 2 X 4's
  5. 4 X 4's
  6. 2 X 6's
  7. Metal braces
  8. Sandpaper
  9. Wood putty
  10. High gloss paint
  11. Paint buckets
  12. Telephone wire
  13. Wiring harness
  14. Doorbells
  15. Raspberry PI
  16. Circuit board
  17. Speaker system

Step 2: Design

We initially looked at a number of high tech options such as 3D printing, but based on the scale of our installation and the limited length of time that it would be on display, we ended up going with a simple wood frame. The major focus of the build would be to get the exterior frame to look like an actual typewriter. The interior frame bore all the actually weight, and was designed to be simple risers. We had also initially planned on using infrared sensors to activate the quotes, but upon discovering that this method was not intuitive enough, we opted to go with the simple and familiar option of a doorbell. Lastly, we designed the seats as upside down paint buckets because it was cost effective, sturdy, and were shaped similarly to typewriter keys.

Step 3: Fabrication

We built the exterior frame, with the customary typewriter curves, by designing L shaped wood braces that allowed us to curve the wiggle board to our specifications. We then sanded the wood and meticulously filled any holes or cracks before painting it with an extra glassy paint to give it a metallic sheen. The exterior frame was built as four separate corner pieces, one small front wall, two sloping side walls, and an internal and external rear wall. Between the internal and external rear wall was a space to hold the wiring, Raspberry PI and the speakers.

The interior frame was built using 4 X 4's as legs, which were topped with 2 X 4's and plywood. This part of the structure followed a simple stadium riser format, where we simply raised the legs for each additional platform. Once these platforms were built, we drilled upside down paint buckets into the wood to act as seats.

These paint buckets had holes drilled into the "top" of them, where a doorbell was later inserted. The doorbells were wired up using telephone line, which ran to an internal Raspberry PI. This Raspberry PI was programmed to play pre-recorded Herb Caen quotes through a speaker each time a signal was received from the doorbell.

Step 4: Installation

The installation process began by loading each piece into a U-Haul and transporting it to the site. Once there, we unloaded all of the internal riser pieces, and began assembling them together using metal braces to increase stability.

We then assembled the electronics under the risers, sliding each wiring harness into the corresponding place on the circuit board. We then connected the circuit board to the Raspberry Pi, and the Raspberry Pi to the speaker system.

InLastly, we assembled the exterior pieces around the interior pieces, drilling each piece to it's connecting piece to form a sturdy and completed ring around the interior pieces.

Step 5: Interaction

We quickly found that most peoples immediate response was to push the doorbells, rather than sit down. We ended up putting in small signs that encouraged people to take a seat. While the quotes brought joy to anyone within earshot, there were a number of people that did not immediately realize that it was a typewriter from up close. With a step or two back or a bit of prompting, most people immediately lit up upon realizing what it was. We found that people were more likely to sit on the typewriter if there were other people sitting on it. This provided for many opportunities for chance conversations, many of which were sparked by the quotes. We were pleasantly surprised by how well people took to the installation, it would often draw a crowd after a quote or two was played. Children especially loved to play on it and push all of the buttons, which serendipitous led to parents delightedly hearing familiar quotes from their own childhood.

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