Throw: Active Art Project

arduino, sketches and calculations

What is Throw?

Simply put, throw is a project that will consist of a wooden board equipped with laser sensors to determine where objects thrown at the board make contact. It will be connected to a micro-controller and computer to read input and create digital imagery.


As someone who loves working with computers, but hates the sedentary nature of the work. I’ve become very interested in finding new ways for us to interact with our devices. We’ve been chained to mice, keyboards, trackpads, and bad voice recognition for far too long, and we’re suffering because of it: obesity, back problems, tight hamstrings, anterior pelvic tilt, poor core strength and tons more psychological and physical health issues that go along with these. As humans, our bodies evolved to stand, walk, lift, throw, climb etc, this is what we should be doing.

But let’s be honest, computers, and the internet open up tons of possibilities for us to communicate, collaborate and innovate. Shunning computers is not the answer, we should not have to make a choice between being connected and being healthy. Instead we need to find healthier ways to interact with our devices.

As a kid, I used to love playing baseball, particularly throwing and catching. When I couldn’t find someone to play catch with, I’d spend the long summer days hurling a rubber ball against our concrete steps, fielding grounders, pop-flies or line-drives. I seemingly never tired of this throwing and catching.

One of my favorite things to do on a computer is create digital imagery, so I thought, is there a way I can create digital imagery by throwing a ball?

An Arduino and Laser Sensing Board?

sketches of tennis ball, sensor spacing and axon view

Sketches of tennis ball, calculations on sensor spacing and axonometric view.

I considered a number of ideas: Xbox Kinect, sound/vibration sensing, motion capture cameras, pressure sensing pads. After taking into account price, portability, durability, extensibility and other factors, I decided on using an Arduino and building a board with a series of lasers/sensor pairs to create tripwires along an X and Y axis to determine when a ball has passed through a plane. So basically, that scene from Entrapment. As long as airborne tennis balls aren’t as clever and graceful as Catherine Zeta Jones it should work.

Using a setup that can detect the location of where a ball passes through a plane, we can then use this information to plot pixels on a screen, or do a number of other things. Once this hardware is built and connected to a micro-controller, we can connect it to web-apps or other hardware and do all kinds of things. I explore some of the potential options in my initial blog post on the idea:

There are a number of considerations and challenges in building this sensing board, as I’ve quickly learned in my research, it’s not quite as easy as building a single tripwire 72 times. But I’m excited to learn more about using Arduinos and sensors to bridge the gap between the physical and virtual worlds we inhabit.

As I move forward with this project, I’ll be documenting the process, posting notes, sketches (pardon the handwriting), photos and code. Now, as  I’m primarily a web developer, with a background in architectural/graphic design, this electronic hardware business will be very new to me. I have ZERO electrical engineering experience (unless you count the high school physics I don’t remember). My hope is that by documenting the process and all my failed ideas/mistakes along the way, others can get some use from it, and see what it’s like for a beginner to take an idea like this from conception to reality.

Latest Throw Posts

Check it out and if you have any ideas on how to use a Throw sensing board like this let me know!



Arduino Thread on Idea

Circuit Planning


Learning about breadboarding and shift registers


Shift Registers

How A Shift Register Works (Video)

Controlling A Ton of Inputs Using Shift Registers – Part 1 (Video)

Controlling a Ton of Inputs Using Shift Registers – Part 2 (Video)

Expanding Inputs with The 74HC165 (Video)

2 Comments on “Throw: Active Art Project

    • Yeah, building laser/sensor grid that will send information to a computer. So you can play games or make images by throwing a tennis ball at a board.

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