Data Visualization with TODAY’s WineBOT

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Data visualization just got a whole lot more fun! Most often, data-viz means collecting data and turning it into a representative graphic, which is fun in its own right, but it becomes even more impressive when you add an Arduino Uno and some alcohol.

A year ago, Andrew Pinzler, Head of Innovation Labs at TODAY, built a simple and unique method for measuring hashtag votes on Twitter. Recently they started including Facebook voting as well, using Vidpresso to create a Facebook Live stream of the WineBOT segment during their regular broadcast show.

“Two trademarks of the lighthearted fourth hour of TODAY hosted by Kathie Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb are hashtag battles and wine. We fused the two elements in the TODAY WineBOT.” — Andrew Pinzler

Most Wednesdays they choose a “none-too-weighty” topic and present it to their audience and ask them to choose a side using #TeamKLG or #TeamHoda. Here’s where it breaks free from traditional Data-viz. Usually you’d take those votes and have some code that would graphically represent the results as they come in and display it on the live stream.

Pinzler built out a little Arduino-based unit that connects a couple liquid pumps with some tubes that run from wine bottles through a motor pump and into (or hovering just above) a couple wine glasses. One tube runs from a bottle of white wine and the other tube runs from a bottle of red wine.

Pinzler uses node.js to collect the data and control the Arduino setup. Every time the software hears a hashtag coming from Twitter’s or Facebook’s API it turns on the corresponding pump for a half of a second, and, BAM! the visualization becomes tangible. Votes for #TeamKLG trigger the pump connected to the white wine, and votes for #TeamHoda trigger the pump connected to the red wine.

When they share the show on Facebook the segment is live for nearly 30 minutes, giving their Facebook audience a behind-the-scenes look at the voting as it unfolds. They use a GoPro from the studio and mix in a webcam, graphics, picture-in-picture and their own producer/host to make a complete show for their Facebook audience.