Developing Colony: presentation at Networked Urban Mobilities

I’ve just got back from a few days in Copenhagen where I was taking part in the Networked Urban Mobilities conference organised by the Cosmobilities Network. If you were there and just want to get to my talk, then click here, otherwise read on for the background context…

I’d submitted an abstract under the Art as Mobile Research special session strand:


In recent years, it has been argued that new research methods are needed to study current mobility practices, discourses and materialities. Next to more traditional social science methods, mobile methods have included participatory observation, virtual and autoethnographies, and various kinds of mapping. Building on these methodological innovations, this session theme explores art as mobile research. Since the early 1990s, artistic research has developed as a distinct field of study. Making art is taken to be a form of doing research and the works of art that result from that research are presented as a form of knowledge. Practical testing is frequently an essential part of this ‘journey of making’ process, enabling ideas and techniques to be resolved before making finished work as part of the whole creative process. Art is not only relevant from the perspective of the aesthetic experience, it is argued, but also as knowledge claim. For artistic practice, this development undermines the modern dichotomy of autonomy and instrumentalism, thus breaking away from the alleged ‘otherness’ of art as a societal domain that has clear boundaries and can be separated from science.

In this session, we investigate how art practices might contribute to mobilities research, as well as how artists reflect on mobile worlds in their work. How can artistic research practices and discourses be drawn upon to develop new ways of understanding and researching the performative ontologies of travel? How can artistic production be seen as a meaningful context to explore mobilities? How can the creative process of the ‘journey of making’ inform mobilities? We invite papers and art works examining these questions.

The session will be organizaed by Kevin Hannam from Leeds Metropolitan University and Peter Peters from Maastricht University.

Nikki Pugh (UK) is an artist working at the intersection of people, place, playfulness and technology. Over the Summer of 2014 she will be in residence at Bristol’s Pervasive Media Lab developing her ongoing project Colony.

Colony is an exploration of how we navigate public space: a small group of people each carry a landscape-reactive ‘creature’ that uses real-time processing of GPS data to generate either a claustrophobic or claustrophilic personality.

Responsible for its well-being, can you find a route across the city that minimises the enclosed or open spaces that distress your creature? How do you balance the elastic pushes and pulls acting on you: guardianship for your creature; the need to get from A to B; the desire to stay with the rest group; the points and stares from onlookers observing your unusual behaviour?

Colony has been developed through a series of prototypes and playtests. Early experiments saw people carrying vibrating bundles of bubblewrap through the post-industrial landscapes of Birmingham, finding excuse and entitlement to explore slightly grimy alleyways or listen to what doorways felt like. A later iteration explored assumptions about secrecy and convenience with large, heavy, cumbersome wooden tubes that hammered out signals according to how built up the surrounding were. Landscape-reactive Sashes (part of the arts programme at the Global Conference on Mobility Futures, Lancaster, 2013) explored what it was like to move as part of a networked group.

At the Networked Urban Mobilities Conference, Nikki will recount how these modules of research build on each other as she investigates the design of the animated, networked, landscape-reactive creatures, the narrative of the events through which they are used, and the affordances the combination of these give for providing new experiences of moving through the city.

My proposal was accepted into what evolved into the ‘Artistic Interventions’ session held last Friday, also speaking alongside Jen Southern, David Pinder, Mike Collier, Peter Peters and Samuel Thulin in a series of 7-slides-each-of-a-minute’s-duration presentations.

This gave me slightly less manoeuvrability than the recent talk at Pecha Kucha Coventry, but I tend to bring props with me and, well, they have a pretty good frame rate!

Accompanying me on the flight over to Denmark was a flat-packed creature fresh from the residency at the Pervasive Media Studio and a couple of heartbeats.

The flatpacked critter being reassembled on the first day of the conference. Adjustable spanners have a habit of being a few millimetres too narrow, but fortunately I had made a lightweight wooden one of the right size to bring with me!

Heartbeat device v4: I took one in a relaxed state and one in a panicked state for people to spend some time with.

The heartbeats were passed around at the start of the session as we waited for further audience members to successfully negotiate the navigational challenge of getting to the room we were in. (The building used to belong to Nokia and seemed to have inherited some of their security quirks. We never did see the sauna, though…) It was interesting to watch people place them on their bodies and feel the different pulses.

Meanwhile the critter was draped over a table and purred away contently throughout my talk.

…And here are the slides and basic content of my presentation (although I did go off piste a little bit).

Hi, I’m Nikki and in 2010 I realised I was working here.

I’d just spent a few years involved with hackspaces and pervasive gaming.
So, peer-to-peer skills-sharing with a technological bent and also grownups doing playful things in public places.

What I took from the hackspace stuff was a sense of possibility that someone like me – with next to no formal training in electronics or coding – could design and make my own technology.

I don’t really get on with screens; I’m much more interested in working with pounding hearts and the hairs on the back of your neck. Making my own devices means I can choose alternative ways of interfacing with the tech, with each other and with the world(s) around us.

My practice is centred on exploring how we interact with and perceive our surroundings. By adding in sensors and microcomputers to sculptural and worn forms, I could now explore extending or adjusting our familiar senses and our everyday experiences of place.

I wanted to work on a project that would enable me to explore my relationship with that territory in the Venn diagram. That project is Colony and I’m going to give you an overview of key stages in its evolution so far.

I had a fleeting image of a small group of people, each responsible for the well-being of some sort of creature they were carrying.

I was interested in the different pushes and pulls that I thought would be acting on the people carrying the creatures. Curious as to how all those would interplay to affect the experience of navigating across a city in a group.

The first version I made was a simple bundle of bubble wrap with vibration motors down its length, programmed to go off at randomly-selected intervals and intensities.

One of the participants blogged this comment.

She also described how it was a passport to go down grimy alleyways and look over walls.

I like to think of the things I make as being permission givers.
Permission to go to new places, permission to behave differently, permission to be playful, permission to talk to strangers.

Feeling I had a successful proof of concept, the next step was to make the bundles landscape-reactive rather than just behaving randomly. This was to be the extended sense and the cue for selecting one path through the city over another.

I had a technique I’d been using that relates errors in GPS positional calculations back to the built-up-ness of the urban environment, so I used that to make the creatures claustrophobic.

I’m not going to go into detail about the system now, but feel free to talk with me about it afterwards..

What we got from this location-aware version was an excuse not just to go to different places, but to interact with those places in non-usual ways as people experimented with prompting and sensing different levels of distress in their creatures.

We all agreed there was something very nice in the soft, warm, light, secretive cuddliness of the creatures so far, so there was really only one thing to do next.

I made 3 of these wooden, heavy, cumbersome drum versions. They run off the same technology, but rather than using vibrations to secretly communicate their state to the person carrying them, these beat out a tapping noise that anyone standing nearby can hear.

I needed to challenge our first-reaction thoughts about what a ‘good’ design might be. What would be the affordances of something contrary to these?

In a world where our mobile devices are constantly sold to us on the basis of being smaller and sleeker and lighter, I also wanted to investigate carrying something burdensome. To constantly be aware of its presence.

The drums were not padded and they would get painful on your shoulder.
The cloth they were wrapped in was slightly abrasive, and would graze your knuckles as you gripped onto the cord.
The bulk of the thing would block your vision.

And people carried them around for much, much longer than I anticipated!

It’s like it became something of a mission. I’m not quite sure what it is, but I think there’s something there in becoming emotionally and physically invested in carrying an object that I’d like to return to later in my research.

Time to think about the Colony as a group. So I networked together some ramblers.

One person carried the equipment that was processing the GPS data and then radio tranceivers broadcast corresponding instructions out to sashes like this. Each sash had a single vibration motor in it that again buzzed with increasing intensity depending on how built up the surroundings were around that person who was doing the broadcasting. Being in rural Northamptonshire, that more often translated to density of tree cover.

We were walking for quite a long time and, unlike the Heavy Objects, I think there was a tendency for the sashes to become invisible to the people wearing them. The regular buzzing eased into the background.

Visually, however, those splashes of bright yellow made us stand out from the point of view of a spectator. They marked us out as being a group. I’m interested in that transition point between one lone person doing something odd and being seen as an outsider vs a number of people doing something odd and the spectator feeling that they’re on the outside because there’s something cool going on that they don’t know about.

This Summer I did a month’s residency at the rather marvellous Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol in the UK. 9 days with a laser cutter too. This was a chance to start pulling together all these little investigations I’d done so far.

Here’s where we’re up to now. This one isn’t processing GPS because we’re indoors, but when it’s got the proper version of the code it’ll thrash its tail around when it gets distressed.

It’s a bit clunky and you have to concentrate to carry it around, but it doesn’t actually give you bruises!
We’ve been experimenting with slings to help support some of the weight, and there’s something very interesting in the almost ritual action of binding yourself to the object.

That’s the point where I start to see it as being a complete entity – when it’s a creature-human assemblage.

We’ve taken 3 or 4 of them out for a few walks around Bristol, and what I hadn’t expected was the amount of stranger:stranger interactions they invite. We had so many people coming up to us asking if they could touch them, photograph them, draw with them…

This makes me happy as I’m a big fan of urbanist William Whyte’s ideas about the importance of conversation starters for contributing to the conviviality of public spaces.

So, that was a whistle-stop tour of some of the main chapters in the development of Colony. As different opportunities have presented themselves I’ve used them to home in on different questions that have bubbled up.

And a lot of different questions have bubbled up.

In terms of a research process becoming a finished piece of artwork, it seems I’m converging on designing objects that I’d like to be used as tools for sensing the behaviour of radio waves in urban environments. On a macro scale in terms of the signals from the GPS satellites – GPS shadows, concrete canyons and multipath errors – and on a comparatively micro scale using the same radio tranceivers I used for the sashes to bring in a line-of sight test for whether you are still connected to the other members of the colony.

That’s what the heartbeats that have been going around are for – if you get separated from the group, the creature panics and you have a limited amount of time to get to a position where you regain contact. Leave it too long and it’s game over.

The end!


Artist Lise (surname unknown, sorry) was live-drawing the session. Here’s her take on my presentation:

Strange. But in a good way!

Colony residency: Lunchtime Talk at Watershed

On the 19th of September, nearing the end of my residency at the Pervasive Media Studio, I presented at one of their Lunchtime Talk events. Doing what I do, this also had a Lunchtime Walk element afterwards, where a few folks came outside with the critters to experience what it’s like to explore the urban environment with them.

Watershed have done a very thorough write-up of the talking bit here.

Nikki then brought her project to the Studio with Arts Council funding, on a residency to experiment with haptic mechanisms and methods to convey the creatures’ emotional state. She made a laser cut heartbeat machine with a solenoid and an arduino, programming it to beat faster when GPS signals were distorted. Cushioned inside of a jiffy bag, or a little card-board box, the solenoid felt like the thumping heart of a small creature. It was bizarre to hold a jiffy bag and to feel so attune to its needs and responsible for its well-being.

Here are some photos from the walking bit:

Colony never stops moving, however, so as soon as the guests had left we loaded up some brand new code, rejigged the wiring of the circuits and headed out again to do some initial testing of some code that Tarim had developed.

More photos here.

Colony presentation at Pecha Kucha Coventry

Here’s a words-and-pictures version of the presentation I did for Pecha Kucha Coventry on the 30th of September…


2010. I’m working with GPS data and walking around Birmingham, on the cusp of starting to try and weave together thoughts about public space, DIY tech, playfulness and the ways in which combining these can change our relationships with the places where we live.

By November I’m starting to get the headpictures – the fleeting images of a half-seen thing that compel you to make the thing so that you can get the rest of the detail.

In my mind’s eye I could see small groups of people carrying creatures that would give them some sort of extended awareness of the built environment around them. I wanted to know how this group would affect – and be affected by – the city as it moved through it.

This project became Colony, And this is a whistlestop tour of what happened next…

I wanted the communication between the person and the creature to mainly be through touch. We’re so used to interacting with things through screens, but I wanted to leave sight free for everything else in the world, not looking down at this thing.

The first prototype had a long contact interface across the person’s body.

Here’s an abridged description from Holly Gramazio:

It has half a dozen different types of vibration (a central shake, for example, and a long ripple that moves from the narrowest end of the bundle to the widest).

It decides when to vibrate – and what sort of vibration to make – entirely at random.

The first thing we noticed was that was that holding the bundle gives you an immense feeling of entitlement.

It’s a cross between a Magic 8 Ball, a personality quiz, a pet, and an emperor.

Out of that first proof of concept we saw how readily people would invest the random vibrations with personality and intent. It also gave us permission to explore the secret corners of Birmingham.

The next iteration had vibrations that were linked to the built-up-ness of the immediate surroundings – this led us into more corners and alleyways.

What we also got from this location-aware version was an excuse not just to go to different places, but to interact with those places in non-usual ways.

We all agreed there was something very nice in the soft, warm, light, secretive cuddliness of the creatures.

So there was really only one direction to go in next!

Big, heavy and cumbersome, I made three of these wooden drums that tapped at different intensities depending on whether you were out in the open or not.

With consumer electronics constantly striving for smaller and sleeker, it was interesting to see the effects of a mobile device you have to work hard at. Really hard at.

The residency those were made through also presented some chewy problems regarding how to exhibit these objects. I usually use galleries as hubs for activity, so exhibiting actual things isn’t something I do a lot of.

When I see the objects as being only half of the constructed assemblage, how do I usefully represent them after the experience and when the person half is not there?

Another residency. This time with a few days to think a bit about the Colony as linked individuals.

I did some experiments with these little radio units and playing around a bit in carparks at night to find out when they stop being able to communicate with each other.

Later, I built on this to make Landscape-reactive sashes. Here the members of the proto-colony are wearing these yellow sashes that have a radio and a vibration motor in them. There’s a central node who is analysing the GPS data and sending out the vibration instructions to all the sashes.

Become separated from the group and your sash goes still.

With Drift, I wanted to find out if it was possible to ‘read’ – to interpret – the vibrations from the sashes.

Given a choice of 3 possible broadcasters – these magnificent creatures – could you deduce which one it was from thinking about the different places where they were stood?

Last year the heavy objects came out again. This is David and Sam from the wonderful If Wet… walking them around rural Worcestershire after I challenged them to use them as musical instruments.

All three of us walked for something like an hour, and I’m fairly sure they saw them more as instruments of torture rather than as a way of sonifying the landscape.

Then I was invited to present a workshop as part of the Global Conference On Mobility Futures at Lancaster University. These are the sashes being walked around a drizzly campus.

Mobilities Studies is a youngish area of research that explores the movement of people, ideas and things, as well as the broader social implications of those movements.

Although the weather was uninspiring I’m getting a lot out of Mobilities Studies as a way of thinking about my work.

This Summer I got an Arts Council grant and finally a chance to dedicate a bigger chunk of time to developing the creatures. Priorities were 1) investigating how to design the bodies so they could communicate the creature’s emotional state, and 2) building in an awareness of the Colony as a whole.

The latter was beyond my skills, so I delegated that to Tarim, who actually knows how to do computer programming. The former started here with bits of string, post-it notes and dissecting pushpuppets for scientific purposes.

The next step was a heartbeat inside cardboard boxes. Even that had the power to make people feel empathy towards the thing and curiosity towards their surroundings.

Over a total of about 35 days we’ve gone from that, to 3 of these.

I spent 9 days working with Sarah Barnes at the laser cutting facility at UWE. Here we built many, many iterations of hearts and spines and brackets and levers.

With physical manifestations to play with, we could figure out the mechanics and also the intricacies of how it all related back to the human body in motion.

We were confident we were onto a winner with this design, and this was confirmed when we put the creatures into the arms of a small group of playtesters.

Humans of course being the part of the system that it’s hardest to design for.

I’m starting to understand about how to manage the getting-to-know-eachother stage where empathy is formed, the Colony is bonded and a shared language is developed.

I was hoping the Colony would provide something of a spectacle, making other people nearby curious about what was going on. I wasn’t prepared for quite how many people came up to us and wanted to touch, wear and talk about the creatures.

I love that these things make a space for stranger: stranger interactions.

And then there was all the unexpected stuff too: one woman spent ages drawing with one of the creatures by dragging it around by one end.

We can also confirm they’re unexpectedly good at skateboarding and that they do not like being dangled over deep water.

I think it’s important for people to have a framework for sitting down and sharing their stories and experiences after walking with these things. I’ve also been working with David Haylock to map the data collected by the creatures, so we have a visual reference for when different things happened and a starting point for thinking about why they happened.


I didn’t really have a snappy closing line, so instead I invited the evening’s organiser, Janet, to come up and meet the critter I’d bought with me

Colony residency: final push

Only 5 more days of the residency at the PM Studio left; I’d better squeeze in another update!

After the first wave of lasering and constructing with Sarah Barnes, there was just enough time to refine the design of the creatures and squeak out enough cuts to make 3 creatures out of plywood (a lot nicer material to work with and handle compared to the MDF I had been using for the previous prototypes).

Cabourg stack waiting to be assembled

Version 9 of the spine has vertebrae that echo the street layout of Cabourg: a French seaside resort and influence in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I like this as an allusion to the multi-path error phenomena from which the creatures’ movement is derived.

Speaking of their movement, it was a very nice moment when we got this tail moving:

It had been tense moments up until that point because as well as the change in vertebrae material I’d also changed the hose I was using for the ‘spinal column’ and tweaked the positioning of the hole used for the driver cord.

Alongside changes in the overall dimensions, we now had a structure that was a lot lighter and more manageable to carry. It would still be a bit of a weight to carry for any length of time, though, and since I want people to be able to use their hands for sensing movement rather than gripping and carrying, we also did a few experiments with binding the creatures to their guardian:

Hands free!

The process of wrapping up yourself and a creature in a long length of fabric is an interesting one and I think it has a lot of potential for symbolic beginnings and fostering empathy.

Once the 9 days of laser cutting were over (gosh we came a long way in that short amount of time!), it was time to return to the Pervasive Media Studio and tackle the code and electronics once again.

Wait! No! What am I saying?! Once the 9 days of laser cutting were over, it was time to spend a couple of days sanding the edges of all the vertebrae in order to remove the burnt wood and to make them smooth to the touch. The result was well worth it, though.

Sanded plywood vertebrae – much more touchable

After another couple of days soldering electronic circuits, the creatures were ready for assembly with GPS units, batteries, Arduino and the servos that control the articulated tail section. This isn’t yet the final set-up I want to use, but I had a group of playtesters arriving in Bristol the next day and I wanted to get something up and running so that they could have something landscape-reactive to try out.

The night before the playtesting I lay the freshly-assembled creatures out on a convenient table in the Studio and it was borderline unnerving to see them twitching away and generally just sort of quietly owning the place. Y’know, in a good way. In a very good way.

“Colony creatures are having a quick run-through of their presentation for next week’s Lunchtime Talk at @PMStudioUK”

Have we got space for another close-up of some curves? Yes. Yes, I think we might…

…And then play testing was upon us!

I’d invited a crack squad of playful people who I believed would ask me some challenging questions and push my assumptions about what I thought I’d made: Jen Southern, Stuart Nolan, David Morton, Kat Jungnickel, Sam Underwood and Laura Kriefman. I wasn’t disappointed! Much to consider, interrogate and experiment with.

The playtesters get acquainted with the creatures

In the few hours we had we didn’t focus on the landscape-reactiveness of the creatures so much, but there was a lot of exploration of how their forms related to the people carrying them. Here are just a few examples:

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

The other discovery was that the creatures were a MASSIVE invitation for strangers to approach us, ask what they were and, often, pose for photos with them. This process had started even before we’d left the studio, and once outside they continued to pique the curiosity of young and old alike:

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

A set of my photos and videos from the day is on Flickr.

This was all very satisfying and followed on nicely from my Lunchtime Talk at the Studio last year where I talked about how I see the things I make as permission givers and invitations for triangulation. Yup, I’m very pleased with that.

This Friday I’ll be giving another Lunchtime Talk at the Studio and, fingers crossed, by then we should be in a position to also try out some of the flocking aspects that Tarim has been working on.


Colony residency: iterations and combinations

The current Colony residency at the Pervasive Media Studio has a chunk of time for laser cutting in the middle. That’s where I am now: learning to use the laser cutter; improving my understanding of the physics and mechanics I want to harness to make the creatures move; and – what’s really interesting – getting new insights into the whole undertaking through having physical objects to interact with.

For this bit I also have Sarah Barnes to interact with, which is feeding in lots of other lovely references and observations!

Using the laser cutter we’ve been able to quickly cycle through several iterations of different elements to the creature structures.

The heartbeat – which will be used to indicate panic levels – was, two weeks ago, a solenoid glue-gunned to a cardboard box. In 6 days’ worth of laser cutting it’s gone from

heartbeat v00

heartbeat v00: solenoid glued to a cardboard box


first attempt at a solenoid mount: it looks so clunky now!


heartbeat v01: a much more lightweight structure, pressing rather than tapping

to this much smaller and lighter design:

heartbeat v04

heartbeat v04: scaled-down framework suitable – I hope! – for attaching to spine vertebrae.

The last week has been all about the spine, though. On Wednesday we attached a ‘tail’ to a servo and were able to see the combination articulating by themselves for the first time (prior to this it had been me tugging on a string).

After spending Thursday morning wrestling with how to skin the structure, we eventually decided that perhaps we didn’t need to and I embarked on preparing the files for a ‘body’ section that would be constructed in the same way as the tail. No laser cutting got done that day.

… but a lot got done on Friday, resulting in this little beauty!

Well, I say ‘little’, but it is kind of huge:

The new torso section joined onto the articulating tail

I have a few concerns about weight, and the consequences of this when the creatures are carried around for a significant amount of time, but the large size of the skeleton is proving to be very interesting in terms of how you relate it to your own body as you wrap it around yourself. It’s very similar to a process of stepping into a role and almost ritualistic as you become one with the structure. We’re now thinking that using a fabric poncho or sling tactic will work well for supporting some of the weight and also bonding you even more to the creature for which you will be a guardian.

Our little forays outside to take photos are also highlighting the creatures’ potential for catalysing stranger:stranger interactions as, even on a deserted summer campus, this one has already initiated conversations with several people who stop to ask questions as they pass by!

I’m really happy with the way all this is evolving: there’s a satisfying balance between proof of concept that I’ve been holding in my imagination for several years, mixed in with delightful little discoveries of the unexpected.

Colony residency: mid-way-ish

I’m currently a little more than half way through my Arts Council funded residency at the Pervasive Media Studio developing my ongoing project Colony.

A lot has happened in 21 days, so here’s a whistle-stop tour of what’s been achieved…

Android phones reporting to a central database

Way back in the first week of July (it seems like such an incredibly long time ago now!), we (Creative Technologist David Haylock and I) were thinking that we were going to build a system where Android smartphones uploaded their positions – and the status of the creatures they were housed in – to a central database. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but a few issues with hardware and a timely dollop of sense-talking from Tarim made us revert back to the logging-to-memory-card system I had been using before.

This freed David up to work on some mapping visualisations, whilst I worked on reformatting the Arduino code into a library-based structure. This has so far evolved from looking like:

openFrameworks based plot of data points

…to looking like this:

Google map based visualisation

This visualisation of the data will be a key tool for supporting post-journey discussion and understanding of what happened. It has already been something of an eye-opener for us as we start to be able to see links between the paths walked, the calculated latitude/longitude coordinates and other data such as Horizontal Dilution Of Precision.

Visualisation showing circles scaled to value of HDOP

A Work in Progress event on the 17th of July saw us experimenting outside with some heartbeats in boxes – carry the boxes into surroundings that are too built up and the heart would beat faster in a panicked state.

Checking to see if being by the harbourside helped

Keep it panicked for too long, and the heartbeat would stop.


A nudge of threshold values and a quick play testing excursion the next day saw more exploration of different spaces that would otherwise have been ignored.

Secret storage

Last week and this, I’m mostly based in the laser suite at UWE, collaborating with Sarah Barnes on the production of the articulated structures that will be the basis of the animated objects that participants will be carrying around the city.

Working our way through several iterations, we now have some promising looking mechanisms for the heartbeat and for a moving tail.

Next steps are to start combining these into a single construction and to start sending it out into the world to find out what affordances this assemblage might have. We’ve still got a few sheets of spangly lycra to experiment with, too!

More photos and videos can be found here:

Colony residency at the Pervasive Media Studio

I’m very happy indeed to be able to announce the start of a residency at the Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol, where I shall be developing my ongoing project Colony.

The residency will be for about a month – mostly taking part in July and August – and leads on from the Place Interfaces lunchtime talk I did for them a while back and conversations sprung from the GPS Orchestra workshop I ran.

An early prototype for a Colony creature

An early prototype for a Colony creature

There’s more information on the PM Studio’s project page, but in short I’m developing some landscape-reactive ‘creatures’ and am interested how use of these affects our experience of navigating cities.

I’ve just finished an introductory 3 days in the Studio which I used to suss out my approach for the main chunk of time next month. It was also a good chance to revisit my original aims for the project (first conceived back in 2011) with a few years’ more experience under my belt. This process involved a lot of post-it notes and a few push-puppets.

I’m not sure how the push-puppets felt about this.

Doing a bit of research into how pack animals signal to each other

Doing a bit of research into how pack animals signal to each other


A push-puppet robot about to reveal its secrets…


These limbs were a red herring


Now we know!


Reassembled components = more learning



Having successfully dissected and reconfigured one of the push puppets, I wanted to see if this approach to applying and releasing rigidity could be scaled up to the sort of size that the creatures I’m making will be. (I’m investigating body tension as a simple way of communicating distress.)

Drilling axial holes in dowel with a lathe


After a morning drilling and sanding dowel on a convenient lathe, I was able to experiment with much larger components and start to see how different surfaces and gravity start to play against each other.

I suspect dowel’s going to be too heavy for my purposes, so I think I’ll try beads next.

Meanwhile I’ve also started investigating use of XBee radios to network all the creatures within the colony so they exchange information with each other.

Lots of pages like this in my notebook as I think that through:

Lines of communication

Lines of communication




Here’s what my desk ended up looking like:

Traces of thinking, learning and doing


I think that’s as good a representation of the process as any!

A few more photos from the last few days can be found on Flickr.

Many thanks to the Pervasive Media Studio community who have already moved my thinking on a lot, and also to Arts Council England who are supporting this residency through their Grants for the Arts programme.

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