Bubble Dancer

inspiration: sketches of ribbon dance, from http://www.reddit.com/r/SketchDaily/comments/176yyt/january_24th_dancing/
Concept sketch of “Bubble Dancer” by Gordon Kirkwood, a robotic art piece which creates intricate and repeatable patterns of soap bubbles of varying size. Materials: stainless Steel, servo motors, microcontrollers, fabricated aluminum, 3D printed parts. (C) Gordon Kirkwood 2015.

Bubble Dancer is a robotic art sculpture,  one of several projects I am working on during my artist residency at Pier-9.  This work  leverages my variable aperture soap-film stretching cable iris mechanism to make intricate three dimensional patterns of giant bubbles, robotically.

It might better be called a “CNC bubble blower”.    With the ability to vary the size of the aperture wetted by a soap film,  and to create new soap films without requiring immersion in a liquid bath,  it can make bubbles at a wide variety of windspeeds,  and with a wide range of sizes including “ridiculously huge”.  It can work in still air or with ambient winds.

If you are interested in working with me to choreograph ‘bubble dances’ for this robot,  I will share with you the interface protocols so you can also control this robot.

Cable Iris Development

I created the first successful cable iris bubble blower mechanism in late 2014.

I’m now working on making this mechanism more planar using concentric nested rotating rings, instead of the earlier design with an axial bearing off to one side.   This will allow bidirectional operation – bubbles can issue out either end, and will also remove a visual obstruction to looking clear through the produced soap films.  Here is a 5-iris diagram I was prototyping before I decided to simplify cable tensioning and wetting mechanisms by returning to the 3-iris design:



The most up-to-date cable iris in early April has a 150 Watt servo motor,  compound cable tensioning pulleys,  stainless steel 608 bearings, and a peristaltic fluid delivery pump located with the servo motor at the top of the frame to avoid runoff. IMG_3677
Hand for scale.

Hand Actuation test 4/10/15:

Servo Motor energized and under control 4/11/2015:

Servo control with slower acceleration also on 4/11/2015:

Heavy duty cycloidal bearing and gearbox mount for azimuth and elevation degrees of freedom:


on the bed of the HAAS VF-2-SS CNC mill just after milling.



testing the fit of the bore diameter:   perfect,  with 0.004″ clearance all around.


One thought on “Bubble Dancer”

  1. To Whom It May Concern:

    Hello! My name is Sandra Zhao and I am the Director of the Chinatown YMCA’s Summer School Program. We have partnered up with a STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) to bring Science into the classroom in a hands-on, interactive, and fun learning environment. We currently have two dedicated STEM teachers that work with the students on lessons like building roller coasters, reusing materials to create new contraptions, and creating rockets. STEM education will enable our students to acquire such skills to help them in the 21st century.

    Our Summer School Program will be hosting a STEM event named “Thingamajig” on July 21st from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM that will display all the apparatuses and activities that the students have been working on throughout the summer. We will have different exhibits that are based on the concepts “Up-Cycle”, “Action Contraption”, and “Trashin’ Fashion”. Our youth have been working all summer long to create these fun and interactive science exhibits to share with the rest of the school and the public.

    We would love to have sponsors and vendors from our community to show the students what possible job fields are out there with a scientific background. We are looking for companies that either can come to “Thingamajig” and host a table to teach students about what they do or companies that can donate items to inspire kids to achieve in the Science industry. If you are interested in being part of our event in some way, please let us know. We are located at 350 Broadway St. (John Yehall Chin Elementary School) in San Francisco.

    Thank you very much for your time. We look forward to hearing from you.

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