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.

GPS Orchestra with the Digital Producers Lab

I’ve spent the last week running GPS Orchestra as an ongoing element woven through iShed’s brilliant Digital Producers Lab (a development programme for 12 producers working across Wales).

As a counterpoint to the programme of presentations and discussion settings led by some great speakers, GPS Orchestra was intended as a practical set of tasks to introduce working with GPS, electronics and the Arduino platform.

Starting with a ‘site visit’ out into Millennium Square, the producers were tasked with observing the space and thinking about how they’d like to nudge the atmosphere and/or behaviours they noticed.

That was the easy bit! What followed was a steep-learning-curved introduction to coding and prototyping to get them to the point where they could control motors and LEDs through live GPS data according to the movement of the contraptions they were to make.

Layering up the skills through the week, it was very heartwarming to hear that by Wednesday quite a few of the group were already planning to purchase Arduino bits and pieces to continue tinkering with after the lab!

By Friday lunch time – after only about 5 or 6 hours on their projects – they had made some amazing things:

  • Something that responded to the number of satellites it could see – initially intended to be rolled along the floor, but ended up getting lots of hugs.
  • Happbee – a wounded bee whose recuperation could be assisted if you carried him fast through the air as if he was flying.
  • The musical box – a small box that had the power to make you dance (or at least move differently).
  • The Digital Harp / y Delyn digidol – plays when you walk towards Wales and plays more the closer to are to the homelands.

It wasn’t an easy challenge by any means, but I was really impressed with the outcomes (not just the things they made). A lovely group of people and a very inspiring week overall. Thanks to everyone who contributed.

My photos from the week are at, and below are a collection of Tweets relating to the sessions:

Place interfaces – thoughts on bubblewrap, bees and lumps of clay

Here’s the audio and visual for the Lunchtime Talk I did on Friday for the Pervasive Media Studio in Bristol. I’m afraid I couldn’t add the wax pods

In the talk I outline how I first got critical of interfaces and then use 3 recent projects (Colony, Dust and Waggle) to talk around approaches and experiences relating to using physical interfaces to mediate between people and place as well as between people and tech (and people and other people).

Place Interfaces – upcoming lunchtime talk at the Pervasive Media Studio

On Friday the 23rd of November I’ll be back at the Pervasive Media Studio again for a lunchtime talk. This time though, I’ll be stood at the front of the room…

Colony Prototyping

I’ll be talking about recent/current projects Colony, Dust and Waggle and their interactions, interfaces and materials. The full title of the talk is Place interfaces – thoughts on bubblewrap, bees and lumps of clay.

Further details are available on the pm studio website

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