Colony Prototyping #2

Thursday came and saw us doing the second round of user-testing for Colony as part of the Platinum showcase.

We walked, stood in smelly corners, manoeuvred in and out of fortified alleyways, got shouted at from cars and stared at from a variety of directions.

It was pretty great.

Moving on from the prototypes I had in March that simply vibrated at random, these prototypes were now loaded with code that made them responsive to their surroundings. Our task for the evening was to find out what that meant when you put that mathematical analysis of data a) into the hands of people and b) in to the streets.

The first group of participants set out to find out how all this works.

Another development since the initial testing was that this time there were two organisms. We’re getting incrementally closer to finding out what it might be like to have that colony of them.

The protoshape I used in March was a “small human sized” pear/water-drop/fish/swaddled baby kind of thing. This had seemed to be an ideal blank canvas upon which to project empathy and from which to project emotions and desires.

Grappling with the over-sized prototype (photo: Pete Ashton)

After a bit of a false start the weekend before, where I had made one that was too darn big, I remade it a lot smaller. And therefore a lot more huggable.

For the second of the two organisms I wanted to try something different, so I added an awkward limb/tentacle thing. Whereas with the drop-shaped blob the feedback vibration motors were very strategically placed along anticipated contact areas with the carrier’s body, the plan for this one was to make something less intuitive to hold and to see how people dealt with it.

A pause at the crossroads

Sash and shoulder; lock and load

Ant probes the streets of Highgate/Digbeth

JV goes for the torso wrap

The photos above show a few of the many solutions people came up with: headwear, neckwear, waistwear and gripped in a variety of different manners. It seemed to me that people were much more inclined to experiment with different ways of holding this creature, whereas with the other … well, this next photo sums up the different modes of interaction very well, I feel:

One blob gets a hug, whilst the other is borne down the street atop of a head

That's not to say that the baby-shape didn't get experimented with too...

A few next steps were identified over the course of the evening:

  • People like data. I need data:
    Of some urgency is the need to log the changes in the data as the blobs are carried around. This is very important in terms of me being able to learn more about how this system works and how to tailor the different reactive responses, but people were also asking me a lot if they’d be able to see the traces of their walks.
  • Reactive responses:
    There’s a lot of experimenting to be done in order to devise the vocabulary of vibrations (and possibly other responses) that somehow convey a sense of rising distress as the creatures are carried through environments in which they are uncomfortable.
  • Reactive responses:
    With the current (no pun intended) set-up I’m limited to having a maximum of 2 vibrating pager motors switched on at any one time. Any more than this and there’s not enough power to drive them and nothing happens – I need to power the motors separately to the arduinos dealing with the data, but still have them controlled by the microcontrollers. I have been pointed towards Darlington transistors.
  • Shapes:
    I need to try more of them. More tentacles? Bigger? Smaller? Fatter? Flatter?

Ashley gets his first buzz as he begins his journey with new companion

As well as a selection of interesting interactions with some of the few other people on the streets at that time, I was very pleased at the way the colony organisms provided an impetus for the testers to interact with their surroundings. Ultimately, this is what the project’s all about.

I've no idea what they're talking about, but I'd like to think it's a discussion about the architectural qualities of the local urban environment :)

A reassuring pat on the back for an organism unhappy to find itself in a narrow alleyway with no clear view of the sky

A corner not normally stood in

Not only not enough sky, but a hefty amount of barbed wire between it and you - no wonder they're not happy

A few moments of paying attention to a rollershutter alcove

Many thanks to everyone who helped get the prototypes working in a technical sense, and to everyone who experimented with and offered feedback on how they worked in a practical sense. More photos can be found in this Flickr set.

Platinum at The Edge

Myself and the other artists from the current Platinum cohort will be presenting our various works in progress at a public event to be held at The Edge on the evening of Thursday 2nd of June.

The artists involved come from a diverse range of backgrounds, and the work on show will range from performance through to endurance; presentation through to exploration.

Rob Jones: My Piece

An exploration into personal fears. This work will involve sharing a series of experiences.

Nikki Pugh: Prototypes for Colony

A playful device that aims to gently nudge and augment people’s perceptions of the urban landscape.

Aleks Wojtulewicz: fr36ze

An exploration of the stimulatory effects of adrenaline. The physical act is militaristic.

Sarah Farmer: Cultural Amnesia: what we lost in the fire

A research-led investigation of the cultural history of the arts in Birmingham from the perspective of recent graduates.

Lucy Nicholls: In Preparation for Death

Researching the commodification of the ritual of funeral, while exploring death within its wider social and cultural meaning.

Mark Essen: Club Hot Zeus; BAD MUSIC

John Napier and CLUB HOT ZEUS present BAD MUSIC.

The first prototypes being tested around Digbeth. This time they'll vibrate in response to their surroundings!

I aim to have two prototype organisms there as part of the development of my work in progress Colony. I’ll give a short introductory presentation and there will be a limited number of slots available for you to take the prototypes out for an exploratory walk around the streets of Cheapside.

Do come along if you’re in the area. Free entry; cash bar; FaceBook event.

Making the Colony prototypes landscape aware

Another compilation of Tweets.

These last few weeks I’ve been giving the development of Colony an extra big push to get it as far along as possible ready for next week’s public event.

Having previously been able to get the tech working on a temporary breadboard set-up, the next stage was to solder everything onto a more robust base that can be used inside the organisms that get carried around. The next stage after that was to start carrying it around!

With the circuitry in a shoulder bag, one GPS receiver on my left shoulder and the other in a glove on my right hand with a vibrating motor, I made myself more location aware as I made the 3.75 mile walk to and from work yesterday and the day before.

The code generates a measure of difference between the two calculated positions and then buzzes out a code so I can feel the values as I walk.

Initial findings are: it’s great! Super-exciting to have that extra sense that no-one else is aware of, and you can see the trends in output as you move from one type of terrain to another.

I’ll be refining the code over the next few days and also getting the circuitry into an organism ready for carrying. Do come along to The Edge on Thursday to find out how I’ve got on.

Colony prototype, in Holly’s words

It’s been deadline central around here for the last couple of weeks, so various things have slipped through the blogging net. Fortunately, Holly Gramazio has written a lovely insightful post outlining precisely what what going on last Tuesday:

We went out in a group of four, and wandered around, occasionally passing the bundle between us – just to see what it was like, how the vibrations felt, whether people looked at us oddly or didn’t notice, whether we felt friendly and warm towards the bundle or annoyed by it. In the end we wandered arond for an hour or so, everyone taking a couple of turns with the bundle.

The first thing we noticed was that was that holding the bundle gives you an immense feeling of entitlement. Only you can tell when it’s vibrating; only you can interpret its whims. Is it happy? Which way does it want to go? Does it have a name, and if so, what is it? Holding the bundle makes you feel like these are your decisions to make, even when you know perfectly well that the vibrations are random and you’re interpreting them pretty much as you like. It invests you with power.

Please go and read the whole thing!

Sonar goggle sampler

I’m one of six artists currently taking part in Fierce‘s Platinum professional development programme. As part of the early doings we each ran a 30 minute workshop to introduce everyone else to an element of our practice.

Since I’ll be using Platinum to explore possibilities for applying elements of playfulness and interactive/responsive technology to my core interest of investigating interactions with spaces, part of my workshop included a chance to sample the sonar goggles I made for the game The Bloop last year. More on what the first part of the workshop entailed later…

Although I was on invigilator duty to make sure everything was running safely etc, I still managed to get in some observation and even take a few photos.

The goggles drew a lot of interest from the other people in that part of the arts centre, and a few people from outside our workshop also wanted to take part. Who am I to say no?!

What’s struck me most, looking back at the photos now, are the different hand and arm positions…


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