MotionLab.Berlin – Hardware Innovation Hub & Makerspace

MindBuffer – talking hardware

“We want to explore the cutting edge in robotics and sensors to heighten immersion and close the gap in the symbiosis between humanity and technology.”

In todays TALKING HARDWARE episode, we are featuring MindBuffer, who are building a kinetic robotic artwork entitled MORPH.

I am happy that Joshua, Mitchell and Nicholas, had the time to answer our questions. 

Have fun reading and leave a comment if you have feedback or questions.

Give us your 30 seconds elevator pitch. What is it that you are working on? And who are the masterminds behind your idea?

We are building a kinetic robotic artwork entitled MORPH. The work consists of 486 unique “nodes” placed around the shape of a geodesic icosahedron with a diameter of 1.5 meters. Each node has a linear actuator motor and a diffusion panel with roughly 150 programmable LEDs per face. In total, we have over 89,000 LEDs. The project is a collaboration between AUGMENTL and MindBuffer from Australia. We have designed the entire hardware, electronics and software stack ourselves. MORPH will be installed in a gallery of an old renovated castle in the south of Austria from March 2021

How did you find each other and what was the final moment, when you decided you’re going to found a company together?

Josh and Mitch of MindBuffer have been working on large scale interactive audiovisual installations for the past 10 years. In 2017, Josh was teaching industrial design at RMIT University in Melbourne Australia. Josh ended up being the honours supervisor for Nick (AUGMENTL) and during that year, Nick created the first prototype of MORPH for his honours research project. It was obvious that if the opportunity ever came up we should join forces and push the hybrid kinectic / digital art field to the extreme. Lucky we have that exact chance right now!

Why did you decide to start working on a hardware idea?

It just came naturally from our two companies collaborating with each other. It is exciting for us (MindBuffer) to be working with AUGMENTL. We have been working with commercial lighting fixtures for a long time now. It is much more exciting for us now to work with AUGMENTL to develop hardware and program for it specifically

Why did you choose the city of Berlin to found a company? Do you think the city has an impact of how successful your project will be?

Josh and Mitch (MindBuffer) moved to Berlin in May 2019 in order to be closer to the European digital arts scene. Australia (as lovely as it is) feels very isolating from the rest of the international community. Opportunities to perform or present at festivals are not possible because of the high cost of flights and the time it takes for travel. As such, the only way to be part of it was to leave and setup in Berlin. We absolutely love it here and have been exposed to amazing communities. There is a lot more direct competition but also a lot more opportunities which makes it exciting. Nick (AUGMENTL) quit his job in Australia and moved here within the space of 2 weeks once we confirmed that MORPH was going ahead for this gallery

If you could have one additional skill in your team, who would get it, what would it be and why?

Project manager / accountant / social media guru / PR wizard would be nice. All of these things are necessary for any project like ours to be successful. It’s just us trying to squeeze these things in where we can but in doing so, it stops the development of the artwork temporarily which gets frustrating.

What do you want to achieve with your startup?

We want to explore the cutting edge in robotics and sensors to heighten immersion and close the gap in the symbiosis between humanity and technology. Our research speculates on the future form and function of tangible interaction between humanity and the thriving digital realm.

What was your biggest fuck up during your startup career?

Im sure there have been some but nothing really comes to mind. Perhaps not applying for an EORI number earlier so our importing of electronic goods from China into the EU could have run smoother for a few weeks…?

Which is the part of running a startup, that scares you the most and which is most fun?

The most fun is getting the chance to explore your full potential full time with capital behind you. The scariest thing is knowing the capital for the specific project will run out in a few months and not knowing when the next project comes along.

When was the last time you really celebrated a success and what was it about?

Every day is full of lots of small successes, from finding an elegant multi threaded solution to a software feature… to working out why your LEDs are flickering isn’t because of a soldering error but a bug in the underlying firmware and then being able to fix it. Then there are the big wins like landing our current project seemingly out of nowhere and knowing this is all we need to think about for the next 6 months

If you could change your life with every person in the world right now - would you do it? And if yes, with whom?

Not really we are pretty content with how life has turned out so far.

Why are you at MotionLab.Berlin?

Access to laser cutters and 3d printers are exactly what needed access to in order to rapidly prototype. Also, the community is really helpful and welcoming and we are very excited to have the opportunity to be at MotionLab.Berlin while we build MORPH

Would you rather have the skills to see 10 minutes into your future or to reset what happened in the last 10 minutes?

Definitely see 10 minutes into the future. I would just trade stocks and crypto for one month wining every single trade and then go back to making art full time without needing any more clients to fund us!

What is your favorite song, that motivates you and brings you through a tough working day?

Squarepusher | Greenways Trajectory

What is the current status quo of your project?

We are about 10 weeks into the project, a lot of the hardware is starting to arrive now. Hoping that we will have the project built and getting tested at the end of November. Install will be around the end of December and will open to the public at the end of March. After then, hopefully someone else with enough money wants to commission another one otherwise we’ll probably have to find real jobs

Are you currently looking for something specific? Investors, specific knowledge or positions?

More clients that want to commission large scale kinetic artworks 🙂

If the 14 year old you would read this interview, what is the one thing you want him to know?

Pay more attention in Maths class

Who is probably the proudest person in your circle of what you have achieved in the last years?

Probably our mum’s haha.

When was the last time you got really sick of what you are doing and why?

There is really nothing much too complain about. Working under massive deadlines and not being able to take a single day off for 4 months straight can get a little tiring though.

If someone invested 1 million euro in your startup tomorrow, what would you use the money for?

We could firstly hire that Project manager / accountant / social media guru / PR wizard so we didn’t have to deal with that side anymore. Would probably invest a lot of it into advertising and trade shows. A fair chunk would go into creating prototypes for our next artworks. Anything left i’d probably store in Bitcoin until we needed it.

Anything else?

That’s it, looking forward to showing the community MORPH when it is finished before it moves to Austria.

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