Floating Forecaster, by U.K. interactive designer Richard Harvey, is a ping-pong floatation device that lets you loft up your balls just by running your fingers across your smart phone. Using either the iPhone interface app c74 or a custom MaxMSP sequencing program, you can do pretty much anything with your balls -- shoot them up in the air, keep them quivering low to the ground, hold your own PowerBall lottery, whatever. Check out some epic ball-playing here:
Mechanically, the contraption is made of 30 air pumps hooked up to a power supply, and it relies on some basic principles of gravity and air pressure. Your physics teacher probably tried the same floating-ping-pong-ball trick in high school, but with a hairdryer. (For nerds who actually care how it works: Air blasts create a low-pressure airstream, while the surrounding higher-pressure air forces the ping pong to stay inside the airstream. The ball rises and falls depending on the strength of the blasts.)
Originally, Harvey conceived of the Floating Forecaster as a weather visualization tool. He got it to show rain (balls falling one at a time); lightning (balls dropping violently); sun (balls floating serenely). Have a look-see:
His first installation was controllable by movement. Using a Webcam, he made it respond to his hand and arm gestures, as if he were playing the theramin. The problem: He was the only who could get it to work reliably.
That brings us to the iPhone/ MaxMSP version, which the geek site CreativeApplications.net is billing as a 3D "drawing machine." They're already giddy about the artistic possibilities: "imagine ver 2 with a 100×100 grid scenario and an iPad interface for 4 people to share + make collaborative patterns in the air." So we'll all get to play with each other's balls? Neat-o!