macetech at the Olympics: Zygotes

The final project we worked on for Tangible Interaction was a redesign and production of a large number of their Zygote interactive LED globe concept. The globes are about six feet across, translucent, filled with helium, and contain LEDs that light the sphere in different colors as they slowly bounce across a crowd.

Tangible Interaction has built these before, but they wanted to build a new design from scratch and add several important features. They contacted macetech to work on the design and production of the new Zygote cores.

This ended up being a very intense project. We had a solid idea how to proceed at the beginning of the project, but due to worldwide semiconductor shortages, necessary parts were dropping out of stock as fast as they were specified. Every time a part became unavailable, it caused a cascade of design changes that required changing other components, which then became unavailable...and so on. Some parts of the project were completely redesigned several times.

By the time we had a complete design, most of our leadtime was eaten away. There were hundreds of boards to construct and not enough time to have our assembler in China build them. We attempted to get a local assembly house involved but they flaked on us. To guarantee meeting the deadline we had to assemble all the boards ourselves. The controller boards had over 400 surface mount pads, so we laser-cut mylar stencils and used solder paste and manual part placing. Still, it took many hours of assembly work for every Zygote cube we produced.

After we shipped the cubes to Tangible Interaction we were excited to watch the Olympics closing ceremony and see our work displayed to a worldwide audience.

Sadly, that part of the plan didn't go very well, due to NBC's coverage of the event.

The closing ceremony was broadcast live on Eastern and Central times, but delayed to 7:00PM Pacific. If you sat through the lengthy ceremony and commercials until 10:30PM, you were rewarded by NBC cutting away from the closing ceremony and delaying the rest of the ceremony for an hour. During this hour, they covered some news and played their new show, "Marriage Ref" including Jerry Seinfeld. At this point everyone I know shut off the TV.

NBC went back to the closing ceremony at 11:30PM, after most people who have a job on Monday had already gone to bed. The Zygotes were at the very end, meaning that you had to watch the following performers first: Nickelback, Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morissette, Simple Plan, Hedley, and Marie-Mai. By this time I am pretty sure we were the only people in the USA still watching.

After Marie-Mai was done NBC cut to commercial saying "Thanks for watching the Olympics Closing Ceremony, we'll be back with athlete interviews." After the commercial break, around 12:30am, they interviewed three gold medal winners, who had already been asked the same questions dozens of times before and had the same answers. If you peered behind their ears you could see some out-of-focus Zygotes bouncing around in the full-head shots. NBC then cut to an outside shot of BC Place and ended coverage.

So that was pretty disappointing, all that buildup for a few seconds of background blur. However it's not all bad, there are news photos popping up showing the Zygotes in action and it seems that for the people actually in BC Place, it was one of the highlights of the evening. And while nobody in the USA saw it (even people we knew who were excited about the project and were watching for it), maybe coverage in other parts of the world was better.

We're glad that the project got some coverage, and that the people there enjoyed the experience. Please let us know in the comments if you saw them and what you thought!

Photo by Razvan Marescu

More Photos

Check out Tangible Interactions Zygote Photo Set from the closing ceremonies.

And here's another good link to Tangible Interactions Zygote gallery.

Submitted by Garrett on Mon, 03/01/2010 - 12:38.

I especially like how the

I especially like how the ball in the foreground is two-toned. Thank you, Alex, for getting that video to us so quickly. It was quite disappointing while we stayed up to watch NBC's coverage. Please, if you were there or saw better coverage, let us know what you thought of it. Thanks!

NBC really dropped the ball.

NBC really dropped the ball.


I was watching live in

I was watching live in Vancouver, and had a full view of BC place outside of my window. I know Alex's work for some time now, and the Zygotes surprise was the best ending to the ceremony. I saw the people having a blast, and bringing smiles to their faces as the Zygotes bounce around. You guys did a great job, and please be sure that all Canada saw your work without a doubt. Lets spread the word, internet is more powerful than a 2 sec TV coverage. I'll help you out ;)

I live in Edmonton, Alberta,

I live in Edmonton, Alberta, and was wathing on CTV. I saw your last post about half an hour into the cermony, and started watching to see if I could guess what your project was. I wasn't sure if the video bars behind the musicians were shift brites, but once I saw the coloured balls, I just knew that must be what you had worked on. I said to my wife: "I bet it's those balls." She said: "Ooo, they're changing colour!" (We use a "u" in colour up here! :)

So you definitely had at least two appreciative viewers who saw the Zygotes live!

woah, tons of people

woah, tons of people steamed, almost 5000 comments,224859

"NBC awkwardly and abruptly ends Olympic coverage"

Wow those balls look great!

Wow those balls look great! Congrats on being part of the Olympics.

Since the link doesn't seem

Since the link doesn't seem to be in the post, or the link from Hacked Gadgets, here is the unedited footage:

Apologies, the video didn't

Apologies, the video didn't show up for me in the main post right away.


hey I WANT TO CREATE SOME of these - How about making a tut/kit on how to do it ?

I would love that

Happy Birthday,

Happy Birthday, Garrett
love, Mom