Landscape-reactive Sashes at Mobilities Futures

Last week I was up in Lancashire for the Mobilities Futures conference at Lancaster University. Mobilities has been brewing in the periphery of my awareness for a couple of years now, so it was great to get a chance to immerse myself in so many interesting streams of thinking.

I was part of the artists’ programme leading a workshop using the landscape-reactive sashes I developed with Fermynwods Contemporary Arts last year as a tool to feed into research for Colony.

The session was based around a small group of people wearing the sashes walking in a loose group, in silence, around the campus for about an hour. Naturally it started to chuck it down with rain just as the workshop started…

Brave souls venture out into the Weather

A quick redux for those that weren’t there: the sashes are connected by a mesh radio network, all receiving broadcasts from a central node. This central node is monitoring GPS data to get a measure of inaccuracies. These inaccuracies can be caused by many different things, but typically multipath error is the main candidate:

The multipath effect is caused by reflection of satellite signals (radio waves) on objects. It was the same effect that caused ghost images on television when antennae on the roof were still more common instead of today’s satellite dishes.

For GPS signals this effect mainly appears in the neighbourhood of large buildings or other elevations. The reflected signal takes more time to reach the receiver than the direct signal. The resulting error typically lies in the range of a few meters.

Once it has a value for the degree of error, the central node then broadcasts instructions for the sashes to vibrate in a particular pattern. Thus the general pattern is that the more built up or undercover an area is, the greater the extent of error induced into the GPS data and the more the sashes vibrate.

In open areas people wearing a sash would typically feel a gentle pulse every 30 seconds or so. In areas where there is not such a clear view of open sky, the sashes vibrate for longer and more intensely.

Transitioning from an undercover area to a more open one

Out in the open, but with large buildings nearby. The response of the sashes may still be influenced by these – it depends on the position of the satellites

Being a fairly miserable Friday morning outside of term time, there weren’t many people out and about on campus as we drifted around. We were smiled at a few times and some of us were asked either for directions or if we needed directions.

The latter points to something interesting. Most of our sashes were covered up by coats in order to protect the electronics: in the absence of this signifier, the way in which we were moving slowly marked us out as being slightly different.

Afterwards, one of the participants – someone who works on the campus – commented on this change of speed and the opportunity it gave for reflective thought.

A few others too reported on how their thoughts wandered at different times. The vibrations from the sashes come through every 20 to 30 seconds and they’re pitched at a moderate level so that they’re there as a sense to tune into if you wish, but they also fade into the background if not.

At the end of the session we were able to take a quick look at a chunk of data rendered visually. After trying to relate the lines back to the landscape and the journey we’d made I then transferred the data to Google Earth. Ah! That’s where that happened!

In these visualisations the length of the lines relate to the intensity of vibration felt at that location at that time. The longer the lines the more vibration is felt

…and the same data in Google Earth superimposed over imagery showing the architecture on campus

I’ve made an A4 poster of all of the data from that day (the workshop and a test walk I did earlier in the morning) for you to download and print.

You can also download this .kml file for viewing in Google Earth if you’d like to see the data superimposed over imagery of the landscape.

My (somewhat grey and dingy) photos from the workshop are in this Flickr set.

Many thanks to the conference organisers, the workshop participants and everyone else at Mobilities Futures for a very interesting few days.

Walk with landscape-reactive sashes: Fermyn Woods to Lyveden New Bield

The third of the three walking events I did for Fermynwoods Contemporary Arts again using the landscape-reactive sashes, this time on a 3 mile walk between Fermyn Woods Country Park and the National Trust property Lyveden New Bield.

Fermyn Woods Country Park to Lyveden New Bield

This walk was to take us through woods and across open fields before ending at the roofless, unfinished Elizabethan building, so we were curious to see what traces these different environments would produce.

The results are below… For more in-depth discussion about the traces and how they relate to landscape, please see the previous post about the walk around Gretton, Brookfield Plantation and Rockingham.

We walked from left to right, and for each image you can click through for a larger version.

Overview of the route taken (click for larger version). I like how the tracts of rapeseed echo the yellow of the marks we made

The traces start and end at the Skylark Café. We were here quite a while getting everyone togged up, which is why the lines are really dense. They're long and all over the place because we were inside and the GPS data gathered was inconsistent.

The traces get longer as we enter the woods, and there is another cluster as we pause at the Complaints Choir's hut. These traces are from the bag that James was carrying.

Here are my traces from inside the hut. (Clearer if you click through to the larger version)

Inside the woods, the lines are quite long, but they get shorter again once we emerge onto the field with a clear view of the sky

Here you can see three different characteristic traces from walking in the fields: the first as we walk across the field of young wheat; then the lines decrease in length as we walk across grass; then the lines get longer again as we walk with the trees close on one side

And here we are at the end of the walk. We enter from the bottom of the image and, after pausing by the big oak tree and the moat, have an explore around the shell of the building. Then we sup some hot chocolate by the hut at top left before making our way down the path to the car park and sit in the shed whilst we wait for the minibus to arrive.

You can download the traces from the walk as .kml files and open them in Google Earth to have a closer look.

My trace (controlling the buzzing, in two parts because I had to change the battery): Part 1, Part 2
James’s trace (logging more frequently): Part 1

I’ve also uploaded my photos to Flickr at

Here are a selection of images from the walk:

Thanks to everyone who braved the drizzly weather and the mud to have a strange buzzing thing wrapped around them!

Walk with landscape-reactive sashes: Gretton, Brookfield Plantation and Rockingham

A collation of data, documentation and discussion for participants of the walk around Gretton, the Brookfield Plantation and Rockingham that took place on the 6th of May…

Walk leader David Craddock from the Ramblers was kind enough to let us infiltrate his 8 mile walk with the landscape-reactive sashes.

This was the first outing for the sashes and also the first time I had used my differential GPS set-up in a rural landscape, so quite a step into the unknown…

So many people had volunteered to wear sashes that there was none for me to wear, so my feedback on how things were working was mostly done by quizzing people as we walked or listening carefully to try and hear the buzzes!

Here is a screenshot of my traces from the morning overlaid onto Google Earth.

Gretton Walk GPS traces

It was a long route, so the lines don’t really show up at this level of zoom, except for the ‘major incidents’…

Starting clockwise from the top, the first spray of lines is fairly apt, as this marks the spot where one of my GPS modules fell off! It was some time before I noticed, and a while after that before, retracing our steps, we eventually found it submerged in a muddly puddle. Many, many thanks to the lady (Karen?) who came back with me to help me look. She also donated some tissue for the clean-up and, miraculously, a few minutes later the module was dried off, plugged in and working again. Phew!

My lines disappear as we enter the Rockingham Plantation; not due to interference, but the slightly more mundane reason of the battery running out! Although this was spotted pretty quickly, it was some time before the logging commenced again and, since we were still hot-footing it to try and catch up with the rest of the group, we covered quite a lot of ground in that interval.

The sight below was a very welcome one and made that much sweeter by the flecks of yellow from the sashes and the cries announcing that they had suddenly resumed buzzing as I came back into range!

Walk with landscape-reactive sashes, Gretton

The above point also marked the transition of the walk from rural to urban landscape as our route skirted along the edge of industrial parks on the outskirts of Corby. If you click through to the original – and slightly larger – image you can just about make out that at this point the lines get a bit longer.

Each line represents where my two GPS modules think they are at a moment in time – one end of the line is one module, the other end the other module. Therefore, the more they disagree, the longer the line is.

Out in the open, the modules get a pretty much direct line-of-sight connection to the signals coming from the satellites – the modules calculate similar positions and the lines are very short. (The sashes would have given a few short, weak buzzes.)

As we make our way through the large warehouses and factories, however, the GPS signals are more likely to reach the modules by indirect routes, bouncing off the buildings en route. The extra amount of time this takes affects the calculations of position. My lines get longer and your buzzes get more energetic.

As our route bends around to the left, something happens to cause one of my modules to lose its fix altogether. Here one end of the lines are fixed to a single point, whilst the other ends follow the route we walked. This happens again as we turn off the road onto the Jurassic Way (I think I changed batteries here.)

So, an interesting set of lines that tell a story, although it wasn’t what I set out to find out about! The lines from Charlotte’s logging device tell that particular story a lot better. Below are some excerpts (click on the images to see the original on Flickr), or you can download the .kml files, open them in Google Earth and have a good ol’ poke around. Part 1, Part 2.

Overview of the route taken (no major incidents!)

Smaller lines get bigger as the group enters the dense woodland of the plantation

Close-up of the lines produced when walking through the plantation - here it's obvious that the GPS modules think they're much further apart than they really are

The large buildings of the industrial units also produce long lines

Clusters of longer lines show where the group paused under trees to take turns crossing the stiles

The tunnel under the railway track

Leaving and entering Gretton village at both ends of the walk

So, some nice results there – both expected and unexpected!

I really liked how the group looked wearing their sashes and the resulting traces tell some interesting stories about the physicality of the landscape(s) we moved through.

You can try the GPS tag for more blog posts I’ve written relating to my work with GPS around the world, and the full set of my photos from this walk is at Edited highlights here:

Thanks to everyone who took part and to David for leading the walk.

Landscape-reactive sashes

Fermyn Woods Country Park to Lyveden New Bield

Supported by the current residency with Fermynwoods Contemporary Art I developed these sashes to further explore ideas of group identity and interconnectedness. This follows on from the recent residency with Phoenix Square and feeds in to the ongoing series of research projects relating to Colony.

The basic principle was to have a group of people all linked visually through the wearing of the sashes, but also connected through a network formed by radio transceivers built into the sashes.

One member of the group also wears a microcontroller unit that analyses discrepancies in GPS data and broadcasts instructions to the sashes to vibrate differently in accordance with the results. In this way, everyone who accepts the invitation to become a member of the group is able to feel what the broadcaster senses.

Broadcast unit with GPS modules, data logger and XBee radio for transmitting to the sashes

Sashes and sash innards - ATtiny85 microcontrollers, XBee radios and pager motors

The use of coloured armbands to signify the wearer to be a member of (or outcast from) a particular group is something we humans have been doing for a long, long time. Some research into the subject quickly seemed to suggest that there wasn’t any colour that didn’t have a loaded history so I chose to reclaim my yellow on the grounds that it did what I wanted it to do.

The yellow of the sashes makes the group visible as they move through the landscape. This weekend we’ve mostly been moving through and around fields of rapeseed.

Walk with landscape-reactive sashes, Gretton

In this context of distributed senses, I’m also interested in a reference to the armband worn in Germany and Austria to signify visual impairment:

Those dots could very easily be modified into a network diagram, right?


So, for the last few days I’ve been inviting people to walk with me as part of a group.

You can wear the sash in any way that seems appropriate to you – on your arm, on your wrist, around your tummy, over your shoulder, around your leg… I impose a few restrictions; mostly just that the radios are on the top and the vibration motors are near your skin. It’s nice if the yellow fabric is visible, but keeping the electronics dry takes precedence, so this weekend quite a few were worn under waterproofs!

Together we have been learning about what restrictions the system puts on us: how far radio waves travel; how radio waves do not go around particular corners/bends; how long batteries last for etc

Walk with landscape-reactive sashes, Gretton

Walk with landscape-reactive sashes, Gretton

Walk with landscape-reactive sashes, Gretton

Thanks to everyone who joined in and took part.

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