above the cloud

an interactive installation that connects you with a cute alien

role: conceptualization, physical computing, coding, fabrication, mechanics

tools: Arduino, IR sensor, servo, NeoPixels, wood work

collaborator: Yuanyuan Wang


what is this project about

Do you want to connect with the alien? Above the Cloud is an interactive installation which user can encounter a cute alien living in the cloud. User wears an alien communication device on a finger, and the passcode to meet the alien is to simply point your finger towards the sky.


creative process


create an interactive installation with physical computing


initial concept

initial concept sketch.jpg

prototype 1

📝paper prototype (test user interaction)

prototype1 v2.jpg

🎮playtest feedback

What we assumed:

Users would gently put their hand under the alien, and wait for alien to react.

What actually happened:

- Users tend to touch or grab aliens

- 2 users wanted to blow aliens

- Aliens’ height was too low, so users can easily catch them.

- Users felt aliens were not friendly because aliens flee away when users try to interact.

- Fishing lines got tangled easily.


refine design


prototype 2

📝sketch and wire diagram

prototype 2 sketch.jpg


- The fabrication was way more difficult and time consuming than we expected

- The stepper does not have enough torque to support spool’s weight. It can only spin horizontally not vertically as what we hoped.

- The spool was hacked from junk shelf, so it does not fit perfectly on stepper’s shaft. We need perfectly fit engineered parts in order to build this mechanics. 

- Wire was too stiff to coil up onto the spool.

🎮playtest feedback

- The user interaction was much more controlled and refined compared to the first prototype.

- There is no grabbing the alien anymore.

playtest 2 V2.gif

prototype 3

  • Changed to 12V NEMA stepper and plugged in 12V power

  • Changed our mechanical structure (using a wood arm and pulley)

  • changed to a softer and more flexible wire

We switched from stepper to servo because we still did not have luck with the stepper + wood arm combination. The electronics was working perfect, but our parts did not fit well. We tried multiple ways to attach the wood arm with stepper. We did not have enough time to buy a 5mm hub, and we only had a 6mm hub at hand. The wood and the axle has either too much friction (so it does not move) or too loose that it falls out. 

modified mechanical structure

modified mechanical structure

testing pulley with new flexible wire

testing pulley with new flexible wire

We planned to use a bean bag and turned it into a cloud. Due to our limited budget and time, we moved our cloud to ceiling. User stands on the floor. Alien comes out from the cloud when user points the alien communication device (finger hand) to the cloud.


We used grey balloons to make the cloud. We also added NeoPixels to make cloud change color when alien comes out to give magical feeling. We used a hexagon wood structure inside to support balloons and LEDs.

testing servo. YAY it works!

testing servo. YAY it works!

wood hexagon structure with wood glue and twine

wood hexagon structure with wood glue and twine