Ann and the Flocks by Sebastian Morales


Dancing Flock at 1871 Chicago

Ann and the Flocks is our interpretation on how the internet is infiltrating our lives and how we might communicate with machines in the future.

A five week "side" project

It all started through MonkeyBars a startup who for the past couple of years has partner with amazing companies to create Hackathons in Chicago. In this occasion they where partnering with Cisco for their Internet of Things World Forum Hackathon (IoTWF). Taylor Harvey, one of the founders of MonkeyBars approached Neil and me with the opportunity to do an installation for the event, this is such installation.

Renderings and Ideas

Few things will ever capture your emotions as the mesmerizing flight of thousands of birds in chaotic synchrony. Individuals flying collectively in close proximity, all processing information from their neighbors alone, resulting in a powerful creature able to protect itself and its members.

Initial sketches- planes with movement

Initial sketches- planes with movement

Swarm behavior is so efficient it constantly emerges in nature across multiple species, but more amazingly, through all living elements. As the Internet infiltrates our lives, we are no longer limited by physical proximity, allowing for swarm behavior to emerge more efficiently based on interests and needs. Instead of powerful breathing flocks of birds in the setting sky, powerful concepts and solutions are created by the agglomeration of individual ideas resulting in a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

Similarly, as the Internet permeates machines, they also begin to behave as flocks. Machines communicate with each other and then take action based on the information shared. Smarter systems are born as known boundaries crumble.

Early Conceptual Renderings

Early Conceptual Renderings

The Flocks is our interpretation of the Internet infiltrating our lives.  How systems that at first were disconnected start working together. Information is everywhere and the Flocks have multiple channels to decode these overloads of data to later communicate it through its network; listening to tweeter, searching motion, monitoring the weather, observing WIFI usage are just some examples.


Since the beginning, we knew that 5 weeks to do an entire project (outside of working hours) was going to be really challenging. We knew that although the project had to be achievable, the greater vision behind it could extend into the future. 

In our vision, the Flocks would be able to absorb information of their surroundings, interpret the data, react accordingly and communicate with other flocks. In many ways the Flocks would be affected by events occurring to other Flocks. Communicating information from one to another, to the rest. 

Five weeks is not enough to create a swarm, so we created Ann, the centralized brains behind the flocks. Ann decodes these overloads of data to later communicate it through its network to the flocks.

Neil Gupta was the awesome engineer behind the network and the personality development of each flock, all designed to behave a little different than the rest.  Through a Raspberry Pi and Xbee Radios, ANN is able to communicate with each flock remotely.



The brainstorming then evolved into a study of emotions. The question was how do we map movement to human emotions? It is easy for us to communicate and identify emotions based on posture of other human beings, even animals. More so, we are also capable of transmitting emotions through form. In the sketches above, each line represents the position of a corner of the base and the way they are moving.

With no more time to spare, it was time to start making things.


The Cubeoctahedron

Cubeoctahedron formation

The cubeoctahedron, popularly known as 14hedron for it's 14 sides, is an Archimedean solid, a semi-regular polyhedron with eight triangular faces and six square faces. It is the intersection between a cube and an octahedron, hence the name. 

The cubeoctahedron has some cultural relevance and it appears in architecture all around the world. I however, am not so interested in its magical properties but in its interesting symmetrical geometry. When seen from different angles one can observe clear distinct symmetrical views. This was ideal for the project since the multiple shapes could break uniformity within the Flock with one single geometry that could be made in a two part mold.

Symmetrical planes

Making 100s if Cubeoctahedrons

Needing more than 200 made, many manufacturing processes where out of the question. Each cubeoctahedron is suspended by a fiberoptic cable which allows for control on each unit's color and light intensity. After giving it some thought, the easiest way to make 100s of these was by casting them out of a clear resin. After a couple of attempts I realized that the best way to do this was to 3D print a mold and then vacuum form a PETG lining on top of the mold. The 3D prints had to be ABS since PLA would start deforming with the heat of the vacuum former. Once the method to create one was perfected I was able to move on to mass production.

"Mass" production

nce the method was established, the process went relatively fast, multiple PETG molds took only minutes to make and in a couple of hours I was able to make more than 200. Figuring out the method took much longer than that though. 

The Base

Creating the bases was a challenge of its own, after several tests and iterations, I decided that the easiest way to make them was in the CNC machine. 

The plan also consisted in giving two flocks to Cisco for their national conference, a couple of weeks in advanced we sent the drawings so they could prepare the process and the space to mount them. 

Lights and Movement

Each optic fiber is connected to an individual an addressable RGB led on one end, on the other to a cubeoctahedron. Each base is supported by three NEMA 23 Stepper motor allowing for a very wide range of movement, including tilting, lifting, lowering, vibrating or creating oscillations and waves.  

I have always found the lathe quite relaxing, no matter how large the pressure to finish in just a couple of hours. 

RGB testing Sequence 

Mounting and Install

Testing soon after installing at the Grand Ball Room. Going through a dancing sequence.

Ann and the flocks lived at 1871, Chicago’s entrepreneurial hub for digital startups, for several months after the installation. They celebrated every time the hub earned a new twitter follower and danced every time they were mentioned through the internet.

Sofia by Sebastian Morales

Spring 2013- MMAE 433- Academic project

Sofia is an electromagnetic levitation clock capable of making small objects float in thin air.  Like a regular clock, Sofia keeps track of time, but instead of having revolving hands, she orbits the object under her glow. Perhaps a metaphor for time, space and gravity.

X ray view inside the clock

Over the centuries, mankind has always been fascinated by the idea of tracking time. From looking into the stars to state of the art atomic clocks time keeps captivating our attention.  In modern days, timepieces are transforming, adapting their functionality, serving less as time tracking mechanisms and more as ways to express ourselves.

A little theory

The following formula is one of my favorite ways to introduce the system:

We can closely approximate the force applied on the levitating magnet by the electromagnet. Notice how the driving factor in the equation is the distance (d^4), meaning that a small change in distance will cause incredible changes in the current (i) required to levitate the same load (f).  K being a constant dependent of the geometry of the system.

In other words, levitating a magnet more than a few centimeters is extremely challenging, not only because the electromagnet has to be powerful enough, furthermore, the system has to be fast enough to react to small disturbances.

The diagram below illustrates the system, R is the resistance through the electromagnet, L is the inductance of the coil, v is the voltage through it; mg is the mass of the magnet and gravity, d is the distance from the coil to the magnet and  e is the voltage across the hall effect system.


So How does it actually work?

In simple terms, the hall effect sensor between the magnet and the coil is constantly measuring the magnetic field. If it detects the magnet getting too close it will reduce the voltage to the electromagnet, if it detects the magnet getting too far, the controller will increase the voltage to the electromagnet. This loop happens at a very high frequency, so fast that the magnet appears to float statically.


Humble beginins. After mathematically proving that what we wanted to accomplish was possible we had two short weeks to create a working prototype. It didn't need to be pretty, it just needed to work. 

Fabrication Process

The process was elaborated, starting by laser cutting the body of the clock and the sanding it until it was perfectly smooth. Priming then painting, we used an automotive class primer to prepare the surface for our stainless steel paint.

In the end

Time is much more than the numbers on a phone’s screen, sometimes we seem to forget that. With Sofia we wanted to step back and communicate time in a different way. No screens, no overloads of data. Look up as our ancestors did, discover time.

Design Team

This project was originally a final capstone design project for the Mechanical Engineering Undergraduate Degree at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  

Participants: Sebastian Morales, Pablo Criado-Perez, Ahamad Khalil, Brandon Slack, Christopher Anene, Eizaaz Zakaria and Haochen Wang.


Special thanks to:
Mathew Spenko Ph.D.
The class of 2013


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Zeltom, 2009. Electromagnetic Levitation System. Available online:

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