Friday 22 November 2019

Interactive bat sound board by Nick Cull

At Gressenhall Museum of Norfolk Life in August I was helping Lindsey Bilston run the Norwich Bat Group stall, as part of an event called “Our Common Heritage” organised by Norfolk Wildlife Trust.  Here I displayed an interactive bat board that I’d developed.  The board was designed to be an innovative way of getting people to associate the silhouettes of different bat species with their identifying calls. 

The black bat shapes were painted onto a white card background using a special electric paint that conducts electricity when touched.  Lines are painted connecting the shapes to a small computer, or Touch Board that acts as a MP3 player.  Touching a silhouette triggers an electrode on the Touch Board to play an audible file of a bat species call.  The sound is heard from a small speaker connected to the Touch Board.  The Board is powered by a 3.7V polymer lithium ion battery.  Both the Board and the electric paint were bought from Bare Conductive.

I painted the silhouettes with the help of a stencil that had been laser cut from a thin polypropylene sheet.  Producing the stencil involved scanning bat silhouettes onto a digital file then using software to arrange the images to create a suitable layout and converting this to a compatible file for the laser cutter.  Although the images were reduced in size to fit onto a 60cm x 40cm area, the sizes all remained in proportion to one another.   After the painting was finished the card was mounted onto a rigid acrylic sheet so it could be propped up.  The Touch Board, battery and speaker were fixed in position and bat sounds downloaded from the BCT website and uploaded to the Touch Board, with a bat species call allocated to each electrode.

The finished bat board was displayed at the Norwich Bat Group stall and visitors were invited to touch the silhouettes to activate the sounds.  The bat calls acted as a kind of magnet for people’s attention with children describing the raspberry-like noises and contrasting them with other more ‘clicky’ sounds.  We were very lucky having excellent sunny, dry weather that allowed the electric paint to conduct.  Damp conditions would have made conduction much more difficult.

Overall, I feel that this was a worthwhile project that could be easily replicated and improved by any bat enthusiast.  A neat fusion of tech, art and bats.

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