Balloonacy! is the concept for an interactive balloon immersion.
Thousands of Balloons + Motion Sensitive LEDS = Lots of Fun.
It was an experience I created in San Francisco in May 2012 along with collaborators Isaac Shivvers and Will Skinner. It was funded through a $1,000 grant from the Awesome Foundation. It was wildly popular with 2,000 people attending in 2 days.
I was interested in engineering an environment that was guaranteed to put a smile on anyone's face and it definitely worked! Here I'll explain how you can create your own version!
Step 1: Prep the Space
We used a large loft with a single entrance. The key is to have plenty of overhead space so that the balloons can be displaced when people move through. Its basic fluid dynamics. If the balloons have nowhere to go they'll pop under the pressure.
In order to prevent popping, we lined all of the walls with black plastic sheeting. You can find this in most hardware stores in rolls up to 100 ft long. This step is key to preventing any surface imperfections from popping balloons.
The uniformly dark wall cover also adds to the desired disorientating feeling of the space.
Its essential to also block out any light coming from windows or doors. We used a double curtain system of sheeting at the entrance to prevent light from leaking in and balloons from leaking out as people entered and exited.
Step 2: Build the LED bugs
To make the balloons interactive, we designed a quick, cheap, and small little light-up bug that responded to touch by lighting up whenever bumped into. We then inserted as many of these as we had into the balloons.
The basic idea was to have a rolling ball tilt switch that would usually be in the off position (held in that position by the shape of the bug and weight of the battery on the bottom), but whenever it was turned about or bumped, the switch would go on and charge up a little RC circuit with a timescale of a few seconds. That RC circuit controls a transistor which, in turn, manages a little LED. The end result is a little LED circuit that turns on when it's bumped, and then fades out to dark over a few seconds. Each one cost roughly $1.50 in parts.
The basic idea is to solder together the circuit with the LED sticking straight up and the battery taped to the bottom, with the switch held in the off position (so that the bug usually sits up and the light is off unless it's bumped). Note that you cannot solder directly onto the battery, so you have to tape or hot glue the circuit to the battery faces.
The assembly is time intensive but with about 10 people were able to solder together roughly 200 in 4 hours. Having lots of pizza handy is key to this step!
B - (battery): 3V watch battery
S - (switch): rolling ball tilt switch
T - (transistor): TO-92 NPN transistor
C - (capacitor): 100 microFarad capacitor
L - (LED): 5mm LED
R1 - (resistor): 1 megaOhm resistor
R2 - (resistor): 1 kiloOhm resistor
Step 3: Inflate
An ideal size for the balloons is roughly 1.5 feet in diameter. You can easily buy in bulk online. We used about 3,000 balloons to fill up roughly 2,000 cubic feet. (256 sq ft , 8 ft high)Simple volumetric calculations will tell you how many you'll need for your space.
Insert the LED bugs into each balloon before inflating.
Use a small air compressor to inflate, your lungs will thank you for it. The tying is obviously very labor intensive again so invite over plenty of friends! We had a small assembly line of inflating and tying which worked very well. Be prepared to smell lots of latex...
Step 4: Enjoy!
Turn off all the lights, invite the neighborhood, and have fun!
Marvel at the joy and happiness that your colorful interactive balloons will create!