This post was written by Ozioma Chukwukeme, a fourth-year majoring in Integrated Design and Media & winner of our monthly MakerSpace Mini Grant.
I’m creating a photo booth for my senior design capstone project. It is a website that invites viewers to capture a self portrait and add it to a gallery which documents self-portraits and selfies taken throughout history. The second component is a thermal printer which is connected via Arduino that allows people to print a physical copy of their portrait to keep.
I wanted to make something that demonstrates the type of art and technology that I’m interested in but was also representative of all the skills I had acquired in the last four years of college. I wanted to make something that people could really enjoy–and a lot of people enjoy photo booths. More conceptually, I hope people will think about the practice of self-portraiture and how it’s changed over time along with technology from a super lengthy and involved process to something that anyone with a smartphone has access to within seconds.
Process, Materials Used, & Final Outcome
The creation process for this project started by dividing it into two parts–the software part and the hardware part. The software side required me to make a React web application that needed to have a front and back end.
The hardware portion is the part I was a lot less confident in because I had limited experience with Arduino. I decided to go with a thermal printer like the kind used for printing receipts because they don’t require ink. I found a thermal printer from a company called Adafruit which is an open-source hardware company that makes a lot of products that are compatible with Arduino, Raspberry Pi, etc. I found out that the printer could connect to a computer with an arduino or raspberry pi. I had an Arduino UNO lying around but quickly realized it didn’t have enough memory for the scope of this project and I needed the Arduino Due which I was luckily able to get through the Makerspace Mini Grant.
After a lot of trial and error, I was able to get the correct serial connection on the Arduino that would print out the right output instead of the gibberish it was printing for days. Then I was able to print images from my computer by using a processing file that turns images into header files which so the Arduino could print each pixel of an image.
This project was extremely difficult because I was learning a lot of the things I needed as I went, but I really enjoyed the challenge. One lesson I learned was to give yourself way more time than you think you’ll need to complete a task because things can go wrong, shipping can be delayed, etc. Another lesson I learned was not to jump right into a project without knowing exactly how each component works and relates to the other components in the system.
One big challenge I faced was after switching from the Arduino UNO to the Due and figuring out what a serial connection was. As someone who had no prior experience with microcontrollers, all the help forums and blogs made no sense to me, so I had to learn the basics to know how to even properly format my question before getting the answer I needed.
Next Steps with this Project
I still have to find a way to automate the image file conversion so it can be done with the click of a button rather than me doing it manually. I also think it would be good to make this project more interactive by allowing people to add filters/stickers to their photo booth pictures before printing them out.
Learn more about the MakerSpace Mini Grant on our Funding page. To begin designing and prototyping your own project, please visit the MakerSpace Training and Reservations page to learn more about how you can utilize the MakerSpace. If you need advice or guidance for your project, visit the Mentoring page to reserve time with an expert!