Humans since 1982 - A million times

When telling time becomes an art

Blurring the lines between art and technology, Humans since 1982 has caused quite a stir with their ingenious clocks. Above was asked to help develop a new, technically updated version for Singapore’s airport. We didn’t have much time on our hands (no pun intended); luckily, tight deadlines tend to bring out our strongest sides.

Challenge
The design duo’s visually fascinating clock artworks are comprised of a large number of seemingly analog clocks whose hands are all synchronised to create a large digital display. Besides showing the current time, they can be programmed with artistic patterns and wordings.

For the version commissioned by Changi Airport, technical improvements were necessary. With a much larger array of clocks, the current parallel communication approach didn’t work. A more stable, versatile and scalable system architecture was required. Replacing faulty parts also needed to be easier and more seamless. Lastly, this huge piece of artwork had to be manufactured, transported and installed in just a few weeks.

Approach
As always with this kind of one-off project, the framework is defined as the work progresses. The whole process is an intertwined web of concepting, trials and simulations – a perfect match for our background in art and design, as well as our rock solid reputation in concepting and prototyping. We put our most senior electronics and project management specialists to the test.

After going through the project and roadmap together with CTO David Cox, we worked closely with the Humans team to create a first architecture for networking, power management and logic.

We make it a point to always use production-quality electronics, even for prototypes. Working hard with our overseas PCB manufacturer and a local SMA company, we managed to shave down the time needed to bring a board to life from CAD release to just three days.

Result
Thanks to a process that ran like clockwork (all right, that pun was intended), the XX clock was delivered right on time. Its new and improved electronics made sure it ran smoothly, without missing a beat. Its launch at Changi Airport was a great success, making an impression from day one.

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Individual clocks
Each of the display’s 504 individual clocks consist of a logic board and a motor board. The logic board features a Cortex-M4 and all boards are networked with a CAN bus. To reduce power losses caused by long wiring, the system is powered at 48V. The artwork is connected to the servers via Ethernet and a Ethernet to CAN bridge.

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Server Backend
The whole clock matrix is controlled from a few servers. It is a highly modularized setup with a number of virtual servers running on one hardware. An entire 21-unit tall, 19-inch rack, stacked with server and network hardware is required, giving an idea of the size and complexity involved.

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Video-monitored functionality
The clock is constantly supervised by image detection software, which compares the current display with what it’s supposed to show. Any non-moving or incorrectly moving clock faces are highlighted.


About Humans Since 1982
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Capabilities

  • Electronics Engineering
  • Mechanics Engineering
  • Supply Chain Management