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Thunderstorm Effects Window

I worked with a five others to develop a prototype window installation that could simulate a thunderstorm for an indoor mystery-manor themed adventure. The final product was capable of simulating flashes of lightning, the pour of rain, growling thunder, and a small surprise for unsuspecting viewers.

This work was performed for 5Wits through course 2.744 at MIT. The pictures and videos below highlight some of the outcomes.

Contributions

  • Storyboard
  • Concept Sketches
  • Sketch Models
  • Fabrication
  • User Testing

Collaborators

  • Eeshan Bhatt
  • Rebecca Hui
  • Mrinal Mohit
  • Victor Prost
  • Pulkit Shamshery

See Website

The Idea

The idea to develop this thunderstorm window came from a storyboard that I developed in the initial stages of brainstorming. The storyboard can be viewed here (best experienced with sound).

In my initial concept sketches, I envisioned an enclosed package that consisted of multiple modules which were designed to provided the aesthetic, tactile, and audio-visual experience of a thunderstorm viewed through a Victorian window.

Howling Winds

In old buildings, it is common to find windows that rattle due to the strong winds during a thunderstorm. We believed that the tactile and audible experience of rattling windows would contribute to the spooky atmosphere in the room. Since the system was enclosed, it was considered infeasible to create strong airflows that could naturally produce this effect. Therefore,I constructed and tested two different "rattling" mechanisms: a vibration motor and a crank.

The crank mechanism (to be driven by a motor) seemed like a promising idea, but was not implemented in the final prototype since the "rattling" effect was not considered to be central to the experience.

Rain, Step 1 - Static Droplets

The thunderstorm effects window was envisioned to be an enclosed system that was installed behind a wall. As a result, it was critical that the components were robust and required little to no maintenance. Since the use of water in the vicinity of speakers (Thunder FX), electrical components (Lightning FX), and wooden structures (Window Frame) raised concerns, I experimented with other approaches to simulate rainfall.

From my initial attempts, hot-glue applied to the back of the window-pane provided the best illusion of static raindrops. When lightning struck and the window was illuminated, the illusion was found to be believable both from a distance and closer.

Rain, Step 2 - Pouring Rain

To acheive a more dynamic and realistic illusion, I implemented two layers of droplets. The first one consisted of globular static droplets, while the other was a moving track that had streaks. A comparison of my initial attempt and the desired effect can be compared in the videos below. The density of steaks was decreased in future iterations.

Assembly Design

The image on the right highlights the CAD components corresponding to the rain illusion. The general idea was to use four rollers to guide a transparent plastic belt - covered with rain-drops - around the equipment and against the window.

The track is a closed-loop that travels continuously around the equipment behind the window. The rollers were constructed from PVC piping, with custom 3D-printed end-caps and mounts. They were covered with a rubber sheet to prevent the track from slipping. A stepper motor was used to drive the track. Power was delivered using a toothed belt that connected the motor to one of the rollers.

Final Implementation

Details for the full window assemly can be found here. Here, I highlight the rain illusion, which was among my most significant contributions to the final project.


“Excellent work on rain -- some of these photos look convincing, you have clearly explored deeply. I'm excited to see the finished product!”

“I believe the aesthetic look of the raindrops is perfectly suited for a show such as this. The hot glue truly does look like raindrops on the window pane.”

— 5Wits