GPS WikiSeat Knows Where It Is

For a while now, I’ve been using Catalysts to make seats out of everything; car parts, picture frames, shopping bags, scrap wood, cardboard, etc. Its fun because you can make seats out of pretty much anything. This is a good way to explore the different design principles like form, function, materials, and ergonomics.

Lately though, I’ve been inspired by the amazingly creative seats that so many students have made (seriously, just search “wikiseat” on flickr or YouTube). And the teachers have been allowing students to learn in innovative new ways. Jared Nichol, a teacher who is using WikiSeat in the classroom, said, “The great thing about it is there is no right way to make a WikiSeat.

This year, rather than making seats out of everything, I’m going to try and make everything into a seat. Its a subtle difference, but it provides incredible freedom to explore, well, anything. For example, you can take the concept of an earthquake simulator and make it a seat. Or a self-contained plant watering system and turn that into a seat. I can only begin to imagine what a GMO seat is, or a robot WikiSeat.

The first thing I decided to turn into a seat is a GPS locator, inspired by two of my favorite designers, Anyhony Dunne and Fiona Raby and their GPS table.

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It started with an arduino board (which is a programmable microcontroller), an LCD display that my friend Jake gave me, and a GPS module from Seeed Studio. First I wired up the LCD display to a bread board to make sure I could get it to work using the LiquidCrystal library, which is a standard Arduino library. Then I got the GPS running using some code that LadyAda put together. After hardware and the hardware and the software was working together nicely, I soldered everything to a prototype board to make sure that the connections would be durable.

Programming something like this may seem like a daunting task, but it is really pretty simple. There is an open community out there that has done tremendous work documenting their processes and sharing it online, and almost all of this stuff is modular. In this example, I put together three bits of hardware: the arduino, the LCD diaplay, and the GPS module. The code was just some copy/paste from two different examples. Its really pretty amazing how easy it is to build something that communicates with satellites. We really are standing on the shoulders of giants.

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The GPS is working, now we need a seat part. I decided to use a simple wood WikiSeat that I had made a while back. A mill bit attached to a drill press was used to route out space for the LCD display to stick through the seat. My routing was only mildly accurate, so I had to go back over it with a file and sand paper. A CNC mill would be the ideal tool for this, but I don’t have access to one of those at the moment, so the drill press worked just fine.

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All of the electronics were bolted to the bottom of the seat.

Screen Shot 2014-01-20 at 6.17.40 PM

So there you have it. A GPS tracker that is a seat. A seat that is a GPS tracker.

Next, I’m thinking about adding solar panels and a rechargeable battery for extended GPS seat adventures. Other seat plans include making a seat for plants what will automagically water them when they are thirsty. And another seat idea is an earthquake simulator that will vibrate any time there is an earthquake somewhere in the world.