Forever 21's giant screen turns Instagrams into mosaics made of thread
Clothing retailer Forever 21 and agency Breakfast have unveiled a 2000-pound machine that uses 6,400 spools of thread to display your Instagram images.
Until 28 July you’ll be able to see your own Instagram shots tagged with #F21ThreadScreen on the giant screen of spools. When you post a picture to your Instagram account, you’ll see a live video stream of your fabric photo come alive.
Once your picture is posted and processed, you’ll also get a short video of your shot being converted to thread by visiting F21Threadscreen.com/[your Instagram handle].
The “F21 Thread Screen” is a 2,000 pound (that’s around 900kg) and 11-foot-tall machine that uses 6,400 mechanical and colour-changing spools of thread to display the Instagrams. It was created by Brooklyn-based hardware creators, Breakfast, and can also showcase basic animations. By driving a custom belt made of fabric, each spool can display one of 36 colours, thus making up a larger image at an 80x80 resolution.
Originally, the retailer wanted the screen installed inside one of its flagship stores, but its size and weight — as well as the need for it to be monitored by Breakfast at all times — means it is now an outdoor installation with a bigger impact.
“Over a year and a half in the making, the F21 Thread Screen is one of the most complex machines ever built for a brand,” explains Breakfast.
“It's comprised of over 200,000 parts - over eight times what you'd find in your car. Every component, from the thousands of motors and gears, to the 600 pounds of milled aluminium, to the lathed wooden spools - all have been custom designed, engineered, and manufactured from scratch.
“Despite the massive complexities living under the hood, the result is a beautiful and simple looking display that is mesmerising to watch.”
It works by each spool having a 5 1/2 foot long piece of threaded fabric that rolls over top of it, similar to a conveyor belt. The hashtagged images are automatically captured and optimised for the screen’s 80x80 resolution, then each spool’s motor drives the fabric to its appropriate colour.
Each ribbon also features a reflective strip which is scanned by an infrared sensor, which tells the machine the colour each spool is currently showing, allowing for corrections for any slip ups that may occur.
The installation uses 6.7 miles of threaded fabric, which is enough to cross the Brooklyn Bridge 6 times.
Explaining the tech behind the machine, Breakfast says: “The web server pulls images from Instagram for certain hashtags, queuing them up and sending to our render server software which calculates best visual representation for the image based on available colours on the fabric. We then send out commands to the motor so controllers over 10 RS485 buses (20 modules per bus) and a picture or animation appears.”
Supporting thousands of pounds requires a serious supporting superstructure. Made up of over 100 individual pieces of aluminium, the superstructure creates an extremely strong, yet lightweight, foundation for the screen to live on.
23 July 2015
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