Hungry Socket

Made by Ruoxi Xie

The Hungry Socket is a spooky device that provides power only if the user takes care of it. This gives an experience of keeping a pet, a limited time of charging electronic devices, playful interaction with home devices. It always gets hungry, and wants food. Users have to feed it with paper balls to get electricity supply for charging the devices for a short while.

Created: February 21st, 2023



My initial intention was to create a device that can help people get rid of their addiction to their electronic devices such as phones. Given the socket, I started to think about the possibility of limiting people’s charging time for their devices. What if the time of electrical supply is decided by sockets instead of people? Only if people take a certain action can the socket work normally and provide an electricity supply. So I came up with an idea: What if the socket is like a pet that requires to be taken good care of? Assigned with a proximity sensor as input and an LED strip as output, I began to think about the interaction between the socket and people. When I was wandering in the lab, I happened to see the marble balls, which reminded me of playing by bouncing in my childhood. The marble balls can be used to test the proximity sensor. Things got quite clear that when people ‘give’ marble balls to the socket, it can start to work normally. The LED light can show if the socket is satisfied or not. Here comes the Hungry Socket.



The idea derives from how animistic design can change people’s interaction with home devices. Animism is the concept that every animate and inanimate object has a spirit, soul, and mind. What about a socket? An animistic object can stimulate conversations with changing approaches, establishing new relationships with the users and surrounding environment. So I came up with the idea of making the socket hungry so that it has two modes and has different interactions with people.

The project of Addicted Products by Simone Rebaudengo also inspired me to animate the socket. People’s relationships with home devices change not only the way we interact with them, but also their meaning in our life. With these devices, they can become individual agents and be able to change their behavior.

As for the input and output of the project, I reviewed several projects related to proximity sensors and found that most of them capture the dynamic changes of the distance. One project that inspired me about LED lights is the CERUNA, which shows the movement of people’s touch via led lights. So I came up with the idea of using LED strips as the language of sockets. 



My prototype started with testing the proximity sensor and LED light with an Arduino. Then I tested the socket with the relay to control it. In the end, I made a physical cube to hold the socket and connect the Arduino with LED strips and relays.

The Hungry Socket has a mouth and eyes on its front face so that the user can easily recognize and put the paper ball in its mouth to feed it. The socket is located on the top face where people can easily find and charge their devices. The LED strip is stuck along the top face, which is obvious to notice. A handle on the bottom of the front face indicates to people to open it. Inside the physical body of Hungry Socket, lay the Arduino with a breadboard. There’s a slope directing paper balls to the Arduino but are not able to touch the Arduino directly. The distance between them enables the ball to drop to the box at the bottom of the cube, which can be accessed by the user when they pull the handle from outside.



This is my first time working with an Arduino, so I was pretty confused about how the system works. But the instruction and library of the Arduino helped a lot.

For the first project log, I familiarized myself with the Arduino and breadboard, and how to connect it with different components via wires. I also started to learn about the coding of Arduino. It turned out that I should have spent more time exploring different functions in the coding world. For the second and third logs, I played around with the proximity sensor and LED strips. It’s interesting to create different patterns of color and lightness, by changing the distance to the proximity sensor. For the fourth project log, I explored how the socket can be controlled by Arduino with relays.

When working on the prototype, I found that there’s a big difference between thoughts in mind and reality. Though I built a 3D model in Rhino and did laser cutting, when working on the physical body of the Hungry Socket, I found that I underestimated the distance between the proximity sensor and the mouth. I also didn’t take into account the weight and size of the marble ball which is hard to hold by the slope I made and hard to sense by Arduino, so I have to change it into larger paper balls. 


Open Questions and Next Steps

The main question of the Hungry Socket is whether it’s hard to control the time for charging the device. I assigned it 10 seconds so that it’s easier to test and observe the interaction. But that leads to the question that, when the socket works normally, what should it look like? I assume that the LED lights should be able to indicate the rest of the time that they can provide an electrical supply.

Another question would be when is the end of feeding? If I want to control people’s accessibility to their electronic devices, how many paper balls does the socket need? One of the reviews is that the socket should not always stay hungry. Instead, it can have two modes: hungry and full, which is really inspiring to me. What will happen if the socket is full? How can it limit people’s behavior? Maybe people are not able to pull the handle and get the paper balls to feed it until the socket starts to feel hungry again.

If I have more time, I would like to create more interaction between the socket and the user. What would happen when the socket is hungry and full, and how it can indicate via a change of LED lights?



This prototype is the first project I did with Arduino, which is a really interesting experience for me. Though I met some difficulties with the coding, interactions, physical models, and time management, I’m glad that I made it happen.

When thinking about the input and output with the Arduino, to some extent, I was limited to the ‘distance’ and ‘blink’ for the input and output. Maybe I can do better if I have time to explore more and dive deeper into different components. The resources provided in the class are really helpful, and I would like to explore more with them. I think I spent a lot of time just thinking about it instead of directly doing it. After this prototype work, I just realized how important it is to make it work, instead of making it perfect. There are always more problems than I assume when starting to do the job. It’s more important to learn from the process of solving different problems.

All in all, it’s really a wonderful experience to work on this project. 


Attribution and References




[4]. Betti Marenko & Philip van Allen (2016) Animistic design: how to reimagine digital interaction between the human and the nonhuman, Digital Creativity, 27:1, 52-70, DOI: 10.1080/14626268.2016.1145127

All documentation images and videos can be found here:

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The Hungry Socket is a spooky device that provides power only if the user takes care of it. This gives an experience of keeping a pet, a limited time of charging electronic devices, playful interaction with home devices. It always gets hungry, and wants food. Users have to feed it with paper balls to get electricity supply for charging the devices for a short while.