On September 24, 2016, we launched "Sisyphus - The Kinetic Art Table" - the highest funded art project in Kickstarter's 10-year history. Those orders allowed us to create Sisyphus Industries. It was just Micah, Bev, and myself then, with zero experience in business or manufacturing. Over the next two years we learned. And with the help of our awesome staff, we delivered over 1,500 kinetic art tables like nothing the world had seen before. Thirty updates and nearly 500 comments detail that experience, and our backers' testimonials speak volumes. One example: "This is the best thing I own. Hands down. I’d give up my car before this table. Incredible execution! Works flawlessly. Breathtaking and relaxing. Love it!"
Announcing our new line of compact, more affordable Sisyphus kinetic art - the Sisyphus Mini
ES ("Essential"), EX ("Executive" ), and LE ("Limited Edition")
The Mini ES:
"The Essential," as its name suggests, designed to provide just the key pieces needed to create a high quality Sisyphus experience at the lowest price point. The sides of its "furniture" are open, revealing the Sisbot mechanism's movements.
The Mini EX:
The Mini EX, or "Executive," is a step up from the ES. Its moving parts are fully enclosed in beautiful furniture, making it ideal for both home and office settings. LED lighting surrounds the sand field and is fully programmable - meaning you can choose white light, colored mood lighting, or even dynamic hues that move with the ball - it's up to you!
The Mini LE:
With our Limited Edition series, we start a new chapter in the Sisyphus experience - cutting edge exploration of algorithmic design producing unique sculptural forms which support your Mini. All Mini LEs include both color+white lighting and 2-ball mode option.
The name, "Sisyphus," came to me in 1998, as I spent hours staring at the endless cycle of beautiful dune creation and destruction happening on my first prototype. It reminded me of the famous Greek myth where Sisyphus is condemned to forever roll a boulder up a hill. Though it's hard to pronounce and spell (and reminds some people of an STD ;) the name stuck. It's impossible to explain without experiencing firsthand, but Sisyphus casts a spell on its viewers, young and old. Somehow the marriage of hi-tech and simple materials, continuously creating (and destroying) beautiful patterns, makes people smile and feel calm. For more than 20 years I've watched people all over the world view Sisyphus for their first time with the same awed reaction.
Why the Mini?
My early goal was aimed at large-scale museum installations, so I focused on building larger and larger versions. Eventually this led to 10' diameter permanent installations in museums around the world. But 7 years ago I began to think smaller - a Sisyphus that anyone could own and live with in their home. After 4 years of prototyping and testing, we launched our first Kickstarter, which introduced coffee table and side table-sized Sisyphus . The amazing success of that campaign continues to fuel our quest - making Sisyphus available for everyone.
At the heart of Sisyphus is a robot (the "Sisbot"), a remarkable piece of hardware- and software-engineering that is designed to run continuously and quietly for many years. Add to that the challenge of designing, building, and reliably shipping high quality furniture, and the result is unavoidably expensive. The Mini lowers that barrier by making Sisyphus smaller and more affordable - but without sacrificing quality.
All three Mini models use the same Sisbot robot found in our larger tables - proven reliable and quiet with now over a million user-hours in the field.
- Same quality, care, and components used in our tables
- Same control software
- Same mobile app
- Same track files (which play on ANY size Sisyphus)
- Same magic!
Quick video of our cutting edge carving process (pun intended):
All Minis use the same Sisbot mechanism we put into our metal side-tables. The only change is the diameter. The motors and electronics are identical, including the WiFi connected Raspberry Pi computer and software. All Sisyphus tracks will play on any size Sisyphus - from 10' diameter museum versions to the Mini.
Size and weight:
All models will be ~15" outer diameter, and ~4" tall. Usable sand field diameter will vary between ~10.75" (single ball only) and ~9.25" (using 2-ball option).
The ES comes in under 5 lbs. (no glass); the EX under 10 lbs. with glass, and the LE under 15 lbs.
All Minis run on 12VDC (power supply is included). Power consumption is primarily from LED lighting, and varies between < 10W no lights (or lights off), and < 50W with lights on full.
Battery operation: We are currently evaluating lithium power packs, and will offer this option at time of shipping.
ES and EX utilize plywood hoops with hardwood veneer. LE is custom CNC-carved from high-grade multiply block.
Glass top is 1/4" thick, tempered, with integral black LED shade ring.
Options: Addressable RGBW circumferential LED lighting. 2-ball option includes 2-ball capable "mag-arm" (two magnets), additional ball, and ball park. Glass + lighting will be available for ES upgrades.
At the heart of this campaign is our COMMUNITY:
"Community" is all about sharing - enthusiasm, ideas, skills, and time. Thousands of people have already invited Sisyphus into their homes and workplaces. Many have shared words, pictures, and videos. This is but the first layer of community sharing.
At the start of our 2016 campaign I wrote, "Over time I have come to view Sisyphus as more than a kinetic art piece: it is an instrument. As a musical instrument plays songs, Sisyphus plays paths. My goal with this Kickstarter is to get Sisyphus into people's homes for them to enjoy as both furniture and art, but also, to inspire a community of composers to write "music" for it."
That hope is now reality: Over 150 new tracks have been composed and shared by Sisyphus owners thus far. Even more amazing, many of these new tracks were composed with the help of new software tools developed by members of our community. Community sharing can happen on many levels - all with the goal of making everyone's Sisyphus experience better!
This is just the beginning. With your help, here are our plans for growing our community:
- Improve our mobile app, making it as easy to get new tracks on your Sisyphus as it is to get new songs on your phone.
- Make it easier to create and share new tracks of any style.
- Build out full app control for the new colored light option.
- Nurture user experiments - both with the software and hardware components of Sisyphus.
(Each of these is discussed in greater detail below.)
THE SISYPHUS COMMUNITY'S MANY BRANCHES:
- Putting new tracks on your Sisyphus with your phone -
We built our Sisyphus mobile app with a Community feature in mind, and we have now begun to build an online track repository. It not only will be the central hub for users to find and download new tracks, but also for composers to upload their new content. Building this "Sisyphus Cloud Store" will also allow the ability for Sisyphus owners to control their tables remotely across the Internet, and send tracks to others' tables (with permission, of course).
- Track composition tools -
All Sisyphus tracks are line drawings that compose one continuous path for the ball to follow. Thanks to our community we now have tools to help design paths algorithmically or to adapt hand-drawn images into tracks.
To date, we have four community-created software tools designed to help you create new Sisyphus tracks:
Algorithmic tools (direct creation of Sisyphus tracks using input parameters):
Freestyle tools (conversion of line drawings to Sisyphus tracks):
SisyphusForTheRestOfUs (SFTROU), by Markyland
- Colored lighting -
We heard our first requests for colored lighting early in the 2016 campaign. I admit initial skepticism (it is often done so badly) and we postponed this experiment. When Micah started our first community home on reddit, one of its early fruits was the first posting of addressable colored LEDs illuminating a Sisyphus sand field. It was striking! Not only did I utter "Whoa" upon seeing it, but it also made me aware that LED packages are available as RGBW, which is a game changer: Red, Green, Blue, and discrete White. This means we can achieve the full gamut of rich colors, without giving up a true white.
And not only can the strip be any color, but each of the 68 "pixels" are individually addressable - creating yet another infinite time-based "canvas" to explore!
Single color demo of ball position tracking - both rotation and distance from center
- Open-Sourcing our Software -
Additionally, we will expand our APIs to make connecting Sisyphus even easier. Already some community members have connected their Sisyphus to Alexa, and other home automation platforms. This will become even easier.
Our new addressable RGBW lighting - using an open source Python library for direct hardware control from the Sisbot's Raspberry Pi computer - is an ideal place for our community to jump in and explore!
- Hardware innovation -
We are constantly experimenting with different sands (and other particulate matter) -
2-ball mode - a.k.a. "Tantalus mode" -
All Sisyphus tracks can be played with a single ball, but I have discovered that many create interesting new paths when a second magnet and ball is mounted at the other end of the arm. (I will be explaining this in more technical detail in a future update.)
This option is currently only found on our high-end wood tables. It will be supported on all sizes (including retrofit kit for existing tables).
Batteries and portability:
We've received a few queries about using battery power for our full-size tables. I've tried a few sizes of 12V lithium power packs, but generally feel they do not last long enough between charges to make them practical (unless no LED lighting is used). However, because of the Mini's smaller size, they can operate on these batteries for many hours - and of course, are much easier to carry around!
How does Sisyphus work? Why/how did it come to be?
I guess you could say the Sisyphus "lineage" started with Eggbot, in 1990. I then built larger and larger motion control tools to fabricate algorithmic metal sculpture. In 1998, Sisyphus was the first art machine to escape from my studio/shop - instead of a tool to make sculpture, it became the sculpture itself. If you are new to Sisyphus and interested in the details of how it works, please see our 2016 campaign page - there is lengthy discussion of both its history, and the nuts and bolts of how its mechanism and software works. And if you are interested in my work exploring motion control art, including prior museum installations, my art site is: The Art Of Motion Control. I launched TAOMC.com in 1995 and have archived three vintage sites which chronicle my work since. (1995, 2001, 2007)
The art of motion control - beyond balls and sand...
It's been almost 30 years since my first "taste" of motion control - setting up a crude demo using a single stepper-motor in my basement shop. Exploring controlled movement of real objects in pursuit of art has consumed me ever since. It's taken every ounce of my "analytic side" to learn and understand the triad of technical skills required - coding, electronics, mechanics. But when it comes to "Why?" - analysis is mute.
My only answer is,"Art!" The word explains nothing. There is no explaining obsession. And yet I trust it. That trust is amplified each time I see the looks on people's faces as they watch Sisyphus. And when I read heart-felt emails describing how their tables enhance their lives. And when they create with Sisyphus, and share those creations.
Our last Kickstarter, I shared my hope of kindling a community of Sisyphus track composers. That is now reality. Building on that, combined with all the things we've learned over the past 2+ years building thousands of quality art machines and getting them to people around the globe, my hope now is to truly take it to the next level. Not only for Sisyphus and its future incarnations, but with the community's help, to accelerate the exploration of motion control as a true medium of artistic expression.
If successful in raising the funding needed, we intend to put out a Call To Action - to identify and attract talented community members across the skill-spectrum, to join us in building an institution dedicated to furthering the exploration of motion control in making art. This spirit is perhaps best captured in this 2007 Cool Hunting video.
Deep thanks to:
Each and every one of the over 1,500 table backers from our first Kickstarter. Without your amazing trust and patience, we would not be here now!
Our wonderful children - Casey and Ben - both of whom were again, incredibly helpful as editors (so needed!).
Geoff and Martin at R62pictures.com for both this campaign's video, and our first's. Outstanding!
Our many developers, who work behind the scenes, constantly improving our software and e-commerce site, as well as design our electronics.
Our phenomenal staff - Greg, Collin, Jimmy, Marlo, Alex, Kyle, Cory, David, Curtis and our newest hire, Sam! You all make this whole thing not only work - but fun!
Micah. What can I say? We've come a long way since meeting in that makerspace 7 years ago. It has been a great pleasure and honor to work so closely with you all these years and call you my friend. I look forward to many more adventures with you.
And finally, Bev. Since I met you during our first year of medical school, you have been the love of my life - always supportive, but remaining a voice of reason. Now that we are working directly together, I count yet another dream of mine come true.
Risks and challenges
At the close of our 2016 campaign, in this section I wrote of my experience with and respect for Murphy's Law. Over the next two and a half years my steadily growing team and I wrestled with "Murphy" many times, only deepening that respect. But with each glitch, delay, hiccup - whether hardware or software - we found a way to fix, improve, prevent, or find a way around each and every problem. Sisyphus is so much better because of these "trials." We now embark on yet a new journey - one that centers on the goal of building a community and inviting that community to help us take Sisyphus to the next level. There will always be challenges and risk when doing something that has not been done before - but we now have a dynamite combination of experience and a team of tremendously talented staff. We are ready!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (30 days)