Flow is an ambient water fountain that (suddenly) turns on and off. The water flow is activated by toilet flushes and lasts for the duration of the flush. A viewer becomes aware of the water currently being used to flush waste. This project was a collaboration with Johnny Lu.
This is a visualization/education project inspired in part by our generous use of water to flush waste. Sometime in the summer of 2011 I saw an interview of Alex Prud'homme, author of "the Ripple Effect", a book on the tragic state of the world's water supply. He mentioned that in Orange County, waste is already being cleaned, and the clean water mixed with natural sources, to produce clean tap water. This made me think about the amount of water we flush every day, and I discovered that not all toilets are created equal! Water efficient toilets obviously use less water, through simple design choices. Some toilets have options for "number one" or "number two" type flushes, of different strengths. But toilets such as the ones found at ITP, and in the majority of public places, use up to four gallons of water to flush with extreme force, regardless of what is being flushed. The issue is pretty disturbing to address in many ways, but we thought it was worth looking at. Produ'homme asks on his blog: "According to EPA, the earth contains 366 quintillion gallons of water. Only .007% is potable. So why use it to water lawns and flush toilets?"
Because of the unpleasant nature of the topic, we wanted our visualization of this water use to be light, ambient, and surprising, so that the viewer gently discovers and understands its meaning. We built an Xbee activated water fountain, to be put in the lobby, that would be gently pouring whenever a toilet is flushed, for the duration of the flush. At ITP, this meant it was mostly on for some parts of the days, and other times turned and off suddenly with the flushes.
I hope to find a more visible place for the piece, and I think many public places would work well for this experiment.
Technology: Xbees with reed switches (activated by a magnet on the metal flush handles) send the flush data to an Xbee attached to a web server arduino, a php script stores the data, another Xbee receives the web flush data in the lobby and activates a fountain via relay switch.