Arduino Experiments: Moving Diorama

Arduino Experiments: Moving Diorama


For this week’s experiment, I decided to combine a physical component (improvised diorama), a potentiometer (as input) and a servo motor (as an output).

My goal for this semester is to create an interactive installation, where, among other things, a digital game sends input to a physical component that is in the same space as the player.


I love the Japanese art of Tatebanko, which is about making dioramas out of paper. How cool would it be if your performance in a digital game would directly affect and move pieces in a diorama right in front of you? Much like old model or paper theatres from the late 1800s, with many moving parts.


Cendrillon - Paper Theatre A Japanese Paper Diorama
A 19th Century Paper Theatre (credit: The Art of Tatebanko – making dioramas out of paper (credit:


So, with my improvised diorama (see below), I wanted to move a boat back and forth using a potentiometer.

I soon realized that this motion was more complicated than it looked like. With my Arduino Starter Kit, I only have one servo motor, and not many parts to build a slider with. So, after at least an hour of frustration trying to build a MacGyver set-up for this boat to move back and forth, I decide to make something with the tools that were available to me.


Moving the boat

How could I move the boat with just one servo motor and a potentiometer?

Servo motor attached to boat

With the limited material within my reach, I came up with a weird, completely non-practical set-up to attach the boat to the servo motor.


I also wanted to try and combine more than just the potentiometer and the motor, just to see how I would make all things fit in one breadboard. As you can see above, I added three blue LED lights to the sky. A terrible idea. If you look closer, my diorama ended up covering the potentiometer. I could probably move it around but I did not want to rebuild my circuits. And talking about the potentiometer – those that come with the Starter Kit are absolutely terrible. They’re made of cheap plastic, and get very loose when attached to the breadboard. (Note to self: GET BETTER POTENTIOMETERS!)

Anyway, here is a small video of how it all ended up looking like. Very exciting stuff.


Arduino Experiments: Interactive Dioramas from Gabriela Purri R. Gomes on Vimeo.


I’ll give you some time to reflect on how amazing this was.


Some notes that came out of this not-so-successful experiment:

  • How do I combine several components into one single Arduino? Different breadboards? How do you approach a small system made of different parts? How do I wire everything? Color-coded wires for better troubleshooting.
  • Before jumping into building the circuit, it’s probably wiser to start by sketching out the overall architecture of the system – figuring out which parts that will be needed, how to physically set-up all the components, etc.
  • It’s time to start figuring out MECHANICS, Gabriela. And refine your ideas. These will help you focus your experiments on the things that matter, and on solving the right problems.



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