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What music brings to your ears, Sisyphus brings to your eyes. Kinetic art, technology and design merged in stunning meditative beauty.
What music brings to your ears, Sisyphus brings to your eyes. Kinetic art, technology and design merged in stunning meditative beauty.
What music brings to your ears, Sisyphus brings to your eyes. Kinetic art, technology and design merged in stunning meditative beauty.
1,992 backers pledged $1,924,018 to help bring this project to life.

About this project

Sisyphus – The Kinetic Art Table project video thumbnail
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Sisyphus – The Kinetic Art Table

$1,924,018

1,992

For more information please visit: sisyphus-industries.com

What is Sisyphus?

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned to roll a boulder up a mountain for all eternity. In my art, Sisyphus is a kinetic sculpture that rolls a ball through sand, forever creating and erasing beautiful patterns. Watching Sisyphus evokes a meditative feeling.  

I have been creating Sisyphus sculptures for nearly 20 years, and have 3-meter diameter permanent installations in Switzerland, Germany and Australia. 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.

Three sizes of tables now available, prices are for Kickstarter campaign only
Three sizes of tables now available, prices are for Kickstarter campaign only

End Table:  Sisyphus kinetic sculpture within 2 foot diameter x 22" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table (exact size may vary). Stepper motor driven Sisbot mechanism. Metal furniture with wood veneer options for top and sides – birch/maple, cherry, walnut, black. Some assembly required. 

end table with walnut veneer
end table with walnut veneer

3 foot coffee table: Sisyphus kinetic sculpture within 3 foot diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table (exact size may vary). Stepper motor driven Sisbot mechanism. Metal furniture with wood veneer options for top and sides – birch/maple, cherry, walnut, black. Some assembly required. 

coffee table with cherry veneer
coffee table with cherry veneer

Hardwood 4' coffee table: Sisyphus kinetic sculpture within 4 foot diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped all wood table. Brushless servo driven Sisbot mechanism. ApplePly base and choice of hardwood furniture – maple, walnut, padauk – all CNC machined and hand finished.  All components including servo motors made in the U.S. except circuit boards. 

Shipping is included in the continental US.  

(3' hardwood version added to rewards in response to requests)

hardwood coffee table with padauk furniture
hardwood coffee table with padauk furniture

 

hardwood coffee table showing appleply base
hardwood coffee table showing appleply base

 

hardwood coffee table
hardwood coffee table

 Click here for press materials

The journey:

My journey as an artist began, appropriately enough, with an egg (Eggbot). 25 years ago I quit my job as a doctor to follow my passion: using computer-controlled machines to create art. I discovered that industrial giants like 3M and Honeywell sold their used automation equipment cheaply on the local surplus market, allowing me access to uber-expensive components at pennies on the dollar. Where the companies had seen tools for mass producing floppy disks and sticky notes, I saw a new art medium. In 1995, I registered my website: "The Art of Motion Control." My friends and family thought I was crazy (and I was) but my wife Beverly supported me, and I went on to create widely varied pieces involving metal, flying silk ribbons, and even bubbles. But of all works I made, Sisyphus stood out – it was my first CNC machine to break out of the studio/shop.  No longer tasked with cutting materials to be used in making sculpture, it was the sculpture itself. It was also unique in another way – I wanted to live with it in my home.  I've spent the last three years perfecting a home version that is beautiful, user-friendly, and that is near-silent and will run for years.

I owe a great deal to the Maker Movement for helping along the way. I was building DIY CNC machines well before Make Magazine first published in 2005, but it was my time at a new makerspace in Minneapolis six years ago that made it possible to push further than I could ever have gone on my own. It was there that I first got to use truly reliable CNC tools, spending my time making instead of fixing. It was there that I learned to value the cross-pollination of ideas that happens in makerspaces. And it was there that I met Micah Roth– a tall, lanky, quiet dude, with a wry smile – who could make, fix, and figure out just about anything he set his mind to. After only one year, that space folded. Six members, including Micah and myself, set off and started our own – Nordeast Makers. Now three years old, NEM is thriving, and will serve as the center of production for Sisyphus. And Micah, who keeps NEM humming, has joined my wife and me on the Sisyphus project team.

Micah, at Nordeast Makers
Micah, at Nordeast Makers

How does it work? (simple version)

What you see is a fully functional table with a thin layer of sand under its glass top. Under the table is a two-motor robot (the "Sisbot") that moves a magnet which pulls a steel ball through the sand. The motors are controlled by a small Raspberry Pi computer which plays a set of path files, much like a music player plays an mp3 file. Sisyphus has no on/off switch; you simply plug it in and it automatically calibrates itself, loads a default playlist of paths, and begins playing. You can control playback – choosing favorite tracks or playlists – speed of play, and table-lighting from a mobile app or by using any browser to connect to Sisyphus with WiFi.

the Sisbot demo unit
the Sisbot demo unit

How it works (Technical Details)  

Hardware overview - All Sisbots are two axis, polar plotters. The smaller versions (for sand fields < 40" diameter) are stepper-actuated, using Trinamic drivers. Brushless servomotors / drives are used for larger versions. High-level control is done by using code written in NodeJS, running on a Raspberry Pi 3. This includes both high-level motion control routines, file handling, and serving a two-way WiFi interface. Low-level motion control is handled by the SisBotBoard (SBB), designed by embedded systems engineer Brian Schmalz (designer of the EiBotBoard (EBB) for Eggbot). Point-to-point commands are streamed from the Pi to the SBB over serial USB, and the SBB does the low-level timed generation of step / direction signals that govern the motors. Software dimmable white LED lighting surrounds the sandfield. Power is provided by a 12VDC universal switching supply for both the LED's and Sisbot. A single AC power cord plugs into a standard outlet (total power consumption <100W for smaller tables, <200W for 4-foot table).

Software overview - At the lowest level, the SBB runs a custom version of the EBB firmware, and conforms to the EBB command syntax. NodeJS code on the RPi will be freely upgradable as it evolves. Routines for converting standard vector file formats (AI and DXF) will be freely downloadable. Algorithmic tools for composing paths are under development. 

The Sisyphus path-file format consists of a text file containing an ordered list of 2-axis vertices, with each line containing the polar coordinates of a point on the unit circle. Paths saved in this format will play on any size Sisyphus (they are scaled appropriately by the software).  Designs can be easily translated from traditional Cartesian x-y coordinates.

 

Interview of me talking about my work with Cool Hunting, in 2007:  

 

 

Constructing Sisyphus hardwood furniture at Nordeast Makers:

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 Gluing up a 32-sided padauk hoop

Machining the padauk hoop
Machining the padauk hoop

 

Gluing up the 4' base
Gluing up the 4' base

 

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 machining the base

-------------------

Giant THANK YOU's to:

Geoff George and Martin Alexander at R62pictures.com for our video,

Dana Woodman and Alex Wayne at BuiltByBig.com for our app,

Brian Schmalz at Schmalzhaus.com for our circuit board and his embedded guruhood,

Mike Lindemuth - video footage,

Jeff Lieberman, for last-minute help,

Our two kids, Casey Trombley-Shapiro Jonas, and Ben Trombley-Shapiro, for their support and major editing!

And lastly, to Micah for his friendship and hard work, and Bev, without whom I'd be lost.

 See Bruce's other artwork at http://www.taomc.com/

 

 

Recently designed custom path
Recently designed custom path

 

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 Rapid erase path (time to complete ~ 6 minutes, 3' table)

Risks and challenges

My experience building and installing large permanent Sisyphus istallations in museums around the world has taught me much about deadlines, budgets, working with others and above all, Murphy's law. The main risks are in underestimating costs and time to deliver a large number of high-quality pieces. The major factor here is quantity, which is hard to predict. We are trying to produce everything, except the electronics, in America. Our pricing reflects this, as we feel this is the best way to ensure our work is of the highest quality and on schedule.

Beyond the challenges related to fabricating and delivery, lie those related to interface and composition software. At present, we have a functioning iOS app and browser-based interface capable of controlling playback and lighting. If successful in reaching our goal, we will create an Android app and continue to improve the interface. At present, I am the only composer for Sisyphus paths, using a variety of vector-based programs with algorithmic approaches to create patterns. These are then converted by a simple utility to the file format for Sisyphus to play. This utility will allow others using vector software to convert their continuous line drawings from common vector formats, such as AI and DXF.

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FAQ

  • We've added shipping for various countries outside the U.S. Please check to see if yours is listed when backing. If not, let us know and we'll add it.

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  • Yes. For the smaller tables (End Table and 3' Coffee Table), we warrant the Sisbot for one year from when you receive it. If you have a problem that we can't fix via communications online or over the phone, you can ship it to us and we will fix or replace it and send it back. (The Sisbot is the electromechanical part, and is considerably smaller than the assembled table. It attaches to the table with 4 screws and is easy to remove and install.)

    For the 3' and 4' servo-driven Coffee Tables, the warranty is the same, except two years in duration.

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  • After the campaign finishes we will be sending out a survey to our backers. We will collect your choices at that time.

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  • No. But it is extremely quiet. The ball being pulled through the sand by the magnet makes a sound even if you do it by hand and there are no motors involved. This is a very soft (and not unpleasant) sound, which most people do not hear when the table's glass top is on. The stepper motors used in the End Table and 3' Coffee Table are driven by electronics specially designed to minimize noise. When playback speed is reasonably slow, like that shown in our video, the motors are nearly silent. If you choose to run your Sisyphus faster, you will hear more sound the faster you go. If you are very sensitive to noise, slower playback is the best choice. The hardwood Coffee Table uses servo-motors, which are quieter than steppers, and allow faster playback with minimal noise.

    Addendum: My wife often likes to take a short mid-day nap on the couch in our living room. Over the past year and a half of longevity testing the stepper-driven Sisbot mechanism, I have had up to 8 Sisbots simultaneously running 24/7 in that room. She hates mechanical noise, and has had no problem living (and napping) with them all running.

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  • Yes. The exact number isn't finalized yet, but will be at least 25. Nearly all of them will be algorithmic, which is the style I prefer (probably because I never learned to draw). Some will cover the entire field with tight patterns, others with more space between the dunes. The time each path takes depends on its length, how fast you choose to play it, and how large your Sisyphus is - some take less than an hour, some several hours. Unlike music playlists, when a new track is playing on Sisyphus you also see the prior track (and maybe even earlier ones, if they haven't been completely overwritten). The visual interplay between these tracks can sometimes bring the most beautiful surprises. The simplest track, which you use to "erase" the field, is just an even, tightly wound spiral, which can run much faster (since this requires no changes in direction for the Sisbot's motors). Rapid erasing takes about 5-10 minutes, depending on the size of your table. All paths designed for Sisyphus begin and end at either the center, or the periphery. This makes it easy to go from one to the next in a playlist, since all tracks can be played forward or backward (the software automatically links their playback according to playlists you can create and edit).

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  • We have not finalized packaging but these are the estimated weights and sizes:

    Sisyphus end table (22") - 2 packages
    26" x 26" x 6", 25 lbs
    12" x 12" x 6", 8 lbs

    Sisyphus coffee table (36") - 2 packages
    38" x 38" x 6", 50 lbs
    16" x 16" x 6", 10 lbs

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  • We have a number of tables running in our makerspace in Northeast Minneapolis (nordeastmakers.com), and would be glad to show you them (and the space). Use the contact address on that site to set up a time. (nordeastmakers.com)

    We haven't figured out a way yet to get this to work using Kickstarter's options for shipping. But yes, we will provide this option. The downside, is that while you will not need to pay for shipping, you will have to pay MN sales tax.

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  • No, not at this time. We considered this, and plan to do this in the future, but decided against it as part of this launch. While the basic idea behind Sisyphus is pretty straight forward, getting it to work reliably and beautifully (smooth ball motion, quiet operation) requires a number of details be done correctly. Trying to document these and then support DIY'ers questions / problems would take away focus from fulfilling the rewards of this launch.

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  • Though I played with colored lighting a few years back, and have some experience with RGB LED's, I chose not to spend time on it for this launch. The design space is unbounded, and I will leave that to others. The current SBB (control board) has only one drive channel, so cannot drive RGB strips directly. But it is ready for an addressable string.

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  • Yes.
    Well sure, but-
    It wouldn't be hard to provide 12 volts using a (large) battery. But we feel strongly that it would not be worth the trouble, considering the versions offered here are not portable and are made to run continuously. Like a lamp on an end table in the middle of a room, it will have a power cord that may be visible. We are considering options: Run the mains voltage (120-240 VAC) to the table, with the 12V power supply hidden inside the table vs. place the 12V supply (black box) near the outlet, and run the thinner lower voltage cable to the table. Please feel free to weigh in on your preference!

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  • The main difference is not the servos. It's the furniture. The more expensive tables are custom machined, top to bottom. You can view both images and videos of how we make these on this page - very labor and machine intensive! Both servos and steppers are truly excellent motion control components. Without getting into technical details, we could use steppers in the more expensive tables, but we choose to use servos because they are higher performance components (more power per size, quieter at higher speeds).

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  • Not exactly. Because of tremendous response, we decided to cap the rewards for delivery in 2017, but offer the same rewards with a later delivery date target. This is our first Kickstarter campaign, but we know that many prior successful campaigns have been notorious for being late. Instead of guessing at multiple delivery dates, we choose just the simple targets of 1 year (October 2017) for the first ~1000 tables going out, and 2 years (October 2018) for the remainder. We consider these dates to be *the latest* you will receive your table by. We intend to ship "2018" tables immediately after all the "2017" tables go out. If we can make that happen in 2017, we will!

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  • Yes. One of the advantages of a polar mechanism and how we designed the Sisbot, is that its symmetry allows the addition of a second magnet (and therefore ball) that "mirrors" the first. Because of its polar geometry, this mirroring does not produce a mirrored path on the sand, but what can best describe as an "inside out" version. The two balls are always locked together in their movement, a fixed distance apart (the radius of the sand field). Think of them as a "head" and "tail" - when the head ball is at the center, the tail ball is at the periphery, and vice versa. Some patterns look great with two balls, some (particularly those with recognizable shapes or text) look jumbled. It is relatively easy to switch between one ball and two, by "parking" the second ball against a block, hidden under the outer ring which blocks glare from the LED's. By running the ball against this block, it is separated from its magnet and stays put, until it is picked up again (by using a special path called "attach"). The downside of using two balls (aside from aesthetic limitations mentioned above) is that the hidden parking space for the second ball takes up some of the sand field, shrinking the field a bit. This compromise becomes more pronounced the smaller the table is. The other consideration is that moving two balls requires the motors and gearing to work twice as hard. We plan to ship both the 3' and 4' versions of the hardwood tables (which are servo driven) with the two-ball option in place. We have not tested the two-ball option on our stepper-driven tables enough yet to say for certain if this will be an option for them. However, the design of all Sisbots includes threaded mounting holes for attachment of a second magnet holder. If our testing shows reliable two-ball play using stepper-driven Sisbots, we will offer an inexpensive add on (requiring very minimal user installation of the magnet holder and ball park block).

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  • Yes, I mean no, um - Correct, no mechanical power switch. Why? Because there is no need for it. This does not mean you cannot stop Sisyphus and/or turn off its lights completely. This is easy to do from either the mobile app or a web browser. We will also make it easy for you to choose a daily schedule, which pauses plotting and dims (or completely turns off) the LED's at night, then automatically "wakes" Sisyphus in the morning. With its motors still and LED's off, Sisyphus consumes very little power. For extended periods (e.g. when you are away on vacation), you can always unplug it if you wish.

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  • Yes. The short answer is anyone who wants to can create paths. Right now that requires more expertise, but we are developing software that will make it simpler. The long answer: Any path you can draw without lifting your pen (a.k.a. "continuous line drawing") Sisyphus can plot on its sandfield. At present, you need to be (or become) familiar with vector drawing programs (like Illustrator, Inkscape, or any CAD platform), and be able to create a single continuous path (e.g. a "polyline" in AutoCAD). In addition to this constraint, this path must start and end either at the center, or the edge of a circle that completely surrounds your path (start and end points can be the same). Lastly, the drawing must be scaled so this circle has a radius of 1 unit. Once you have your artwork in this form and saved in a common vector format (e.g. DXF), you can then convert to a file that will play on any size Sisyphus using a free utility we will provide online (prior to you receiving your table). This app converts the XY positions of your path into their polar equivalents. It took me about 3 hours to put together the path shown in the video just above "Risks and challenges", which shows the ball tracing both the Kickstarter and Sisyphus logos. At present, converting "normal" artwork to a continuous path that looks good is a tedious process, but we will be working on software that makes this process more automated (developing tools that help you splice together paths with "pen ups" in them, and commonly desired facilities like continuous line fonts). Once these basic software tools are completed, we intend to begin development of algorithmic tools allowing exploration of pattern generation.

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  • Nothing is :) But we are confident it can withstand all but truly extreme cases (where any piece of furniture with glass gets toppled). Of course our first concern is safety - the glass tops are tempered (also called "safety glass" because if broken it shatters into uniformly small pieces that are far less likely to cause deep injuries). At the recent Maker Faire in NYC, we witnessed many children leaning on and in some cases *sitting* on the glass without any ill effects. The Sisbot circuitry and mechanism are exposed under the 2' and 3' metal tables, but there is no risk of electrical hazard since the maximum voltage is 12V. It might be possible for a determined child (or cat) to interfere with the mechanism's movement, but the motors do not have enough power to cause injury. At worst, the position of the magnet / ball could be temporarily thrown off (likely ruining the current path being drawn). But this would be easily fixed by "rebooting" (unplugging / plugging in) the Sisyphus, which would then recalibrate to its "home" position, and start drawing again.

    Last updated:

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    Sisyphus end table - Early Bird 1

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    Sisyphus end table

    Sisyphus kinetic sculpture within 2 foot diameter x 22" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table (exact size may vary).
    Wood veneer options: birch/maple, walnut, black. Some assembly required.
    Please note that sales tax is due for Minnesota orders.
    Local (MInneapolis) pick up is an option - shipping charges will be credited toward sales tax.
    Please note: backers are responsible for paying any customs/duties/taxes.

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    Sisyphus end table

    Sisyphus kinetic sculpture within 2 foot diameter x 22" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table (exact size may vary).
    Wood veneer options: birch/maple, walnut, black. Some assembly required.
    Please note that sales tax is due for Minnesota orders.
    Local (MInneapolis) pick up is an option - shipping charges will be credited toward sales tax.
    Please note: backers are responsible for paying any customs/duties/taxes.

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    Sisyphus 3' coffee table - Early Bird 1

    Sisyphus kinetic sculpture within 36" diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table.
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    Sisyphus 3' coffee table - Early Bird 2

    Sisyphus kinetic sculpture within 36" diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table.
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    Please note that sales tax is due for Minnesota orders.
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    Sisyphus 3 foot coffee table

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    Please note that sales tax is due for Minnesota orders.
    Local (MInneapolis) pick up is an option - shipping charges will be credited toward sales tax.
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    Sisyphus 3 foot coffee table

    Sisyphus kinetic sculpture within 36" diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table.
    Wood veneer options: birch/maple, walnut, black. Some assembly required.
    Please note that sales tax is due for Minnesota orders.
    Local (MInneapolis) pick up is an option - shipping charges will be credited toward sales tax.
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    Sisyphus x2 (3ft coffee and end tables)

    2 Sisyphus kinetic sculptures: one within 36" diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table and one within 2 foot diameter x 22" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table (exact size may vary).
    Wood veneer options: birch/maple, walnut, black. Some assembly required.
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    3 foot coffee and 2 foot end table combo

    2 Sisyphus kinetic sculptures: one within 36" diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table and one within 2 foot diameter x 22" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table (exact size may vary).
    Wood veneer options: birch/maple, walnut, black. Some assembly required.
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  16. Reward no longer available

    Pledge $1,905 or more About $1,905

    Sisyphus x2 (3ft coffee and end tables)

    2 Sisyphus kinetic sculptures: one within 36" diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table and one within 2 foot diameter x 22" tall, tempered glass-topped metal table (exact size may vary).
    Wood veneer options: birch/maple, walnut, black. Some assembly required.
    Please note that sales tax is due for Minnesota orders.
    Local (MInneapolis) pick up is an option - shipping charges will be credited toward sales tax.

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    Ships to Only certain countries
    Reward no longer available 33 backers
    $
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  17. Reward no longer available

    Pledge $6,000 or more About $6,000

    Sisyphus hardwood 3' coffee table

    Sisyphus kinetic sculpture (brushless servo driven) within ~36" diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped custom crafted hardwood table.
    Wood options - maple, walnut, padauk.
    All components including servo motors made in USA except circuit boards.

    Shipping in the continental USA is included. Please contact us for shipping to Alaska or Hawaii.

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    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Reward no longer available 15 backers
    $
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  18. Select this reward

    Pledge $6,000 or more About $6,000

    Sisyphus hardwood 3' coffee table

    Sisyphus kinetic sculpture (brushless servo driven) within ~36" diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped custom crafted hardwood table.
    Wood options - maple, walnut, padauk.
    All components including servo motors made in USA except circuit boards.

    Shipping in the continental USA is included. Please contact us for shipping to Alaska or Hawaii.

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    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    4 backers
    $
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  19. Reward no longer available

    Pledge $7,500 or more About $7,500

    Sisyphus hardwood 4' coffee table

    Sisyphus kinetic sculpture (brushless servo driven) within 48" diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped custom crafted hardwood table.
    Wood options - maple, walnut, padauk.
    All components including servo motors made in USA except circuit boards.

    Shipping in the continental USA is included. Please contact us for shipping to Alaska or Hawaii.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    Reward no longer available 15 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

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  20. Select this reward

    Pledge $7,500 or more About $7,500

    Sisyphus hardwood 4' coffee table

    Sisyphus kinetic sculpture (brushless servo driven) within 48" diameter x 18" tall, tempered glass-topped custom crafted hardwood table.
    Wood options - maple, walnut, padauk.
    All components including servo motors made in USA except circuit boards.

    Shipping in the continental USA is included. Please contact us for shipping to Alaska or Hawaii.

    Less
    Estimated delivery
    Ships to Only United States
    10 backers
    $
    Kickstarter is not a store.

    It's a way to bring creative projects to life.

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Funding period

- (30 days)