Archive: Stories

Derby [2061] – Telescope Cards Edition

Earlier this month, the internet saw the arrival of Telescope Cards. This service enables you to pull in a List – a curated collection of places e.g. best coffee in East London – from Foursquare, and have it handsomely printed onto a pocket collection of cards.

On deck.

I like cards. Apart from them lighting up that card collecting boy that’s still inside me somewhere, they’re also nice and tactile. You can flip through them, give them to someone, write on them. It’s been said a lot more eloquently and informed than this, but you can’t do those things with the internet.

Printing out the internet has rightfully become a thing, and mini cards is the perfect way to print out Foursquare. As soon as I saw Basil & Co at Minified‘s lovely site for Telescope Cards, I wanted to try out Derby [2061] with it.

Background to Derby 2061

In 2011 I wrote a story on Foursquare. It tells the tale of a city fifty years in the future, where memories can be downloaded and experienced internally, where fast food is 3D printed, real food is for the rich, and the Moon and Mars have been colonised. The aim wasn’t to write a speculative masterpiece – the facets of the story are stock sci-fi tropes – but to see if you could write something on a location-based game platform.



Derby 2061

Users ‘Check In’ at a location using Foursquare, and see an alternative version of that place. They click on that place to see what it is – a Monorail Station where the train station is supposed to be, or a Server Farm instead of the college campus – and find a strange Tip from a narrator.

The narrator is Girl X, a young girl accidentally sent back in time from 2061 to the present day. She uses Foursquare (and other assorted social media) to tell us what will happen to the places around us in the next half century.

Early Conclusions

As well as using Foursquare as a storytelling platform, I wanted to see if you could entice someone into a story by leaving a digital breadcrumb trail. And if you told parts of a story, would the reader fill in the gaps?

The main problem in this excersize is awareness and likelihood of that happening. The concept has had good press and been mentioned at conferences around the world, but it’s located in Derby. You have to be in Derby to experience it. And not that many people travel to Derby, so your audience is the population divided by the amount of Foursquare users within it divided by the amount of Foursquare users within it who are interested in digital storytelling. The story is buried, and there aren’t that many diggers around.

Telescope cards are an opportunity to see if people respond to the story when the ‘rabbit hole’ into it is a physical thing rather than a digital one.

Framing the future: fictional place descriptions and tips.

Making The First Set

I printed one set of cards: a prototype set. Telescope print decks of 25 cards, so I cut the story in half to fit. For the printed Tip on each card, you can use 100 characters max. In under an hour I’d done a good bit of editing and the result was better than what I’d started out with. Forced editing is a good thing.

The cards arrived the other day, and I love them. I flip through them, reading the Tips and imagining the place they are talking about. Next time I’m in Derby city, I’ll go to some of the places and see what effects the combination of card and vision have.

Will being at a location with a card in hand reframe the place of Foursquare in the story?

Is Foursquare a means to tick off that part of the story, and tell my social graph that I’ve ‘completed’ a chapter?

The narrative of the story was embedded in Girl X’s description of places. By lifting out these descriptions into print, could that open up Foursquare to go deeper into the narrative/character?

The main problem with Derby[2061] is awareness. If I place these cards in the gallery shop window, or on a coffee shop counter, will people’s interest be piqued?

A selection of the deck of 25 cards.

I’m going to test this first deck out on a few people, see what happens. If the response it good, maybe I’ll print a few more decks and put them in some good spots to see if people pick them up and play with them.

Postscript

As a result of thinking about what is essentially a low-level protype, alpha version of a story (as well as a way of telling one), I find the story becoming clearer in my mind. By thinking “what would Girl X say about this place?” her character now has a voice and opinion in my head. Thus it becomes easier to expand the story.

If Telescope Cards work for Derby [2061] or not, they have at least given me a bit of time with a story I had almost left behind, and established in my mind a character whose deeper story I am becoming increasingly interested in telling.

The Perceptive Radio: a project for BBC R&D

In late 2012, Ian Forrester of BBC R&D approached us with an idea he had about taking the Perceptive Media experiment in new editorial formats prototype into a next stage.

Earlier in the year, we”d proposed a “perceptive” experience for the CBBC homepage, taking in data feeds to change how it was presented and incorporating playful elements (eg blowing away clouds if it was a rainy day near you), so Perceptive Media was a natural fit.

Breaking Out, BBC R&D”s original Perceptive Media experiment involved a two-character radioplay – one of whom was acted by a text-to-voice synthesiser – which uses data to adapt the content to the user”s context. eg using location data to fill in dialogue gaps such as weather or place names (“you can do anything, you can go to the Imperial War Museum” – if you”re in Salford/Manchester).

Breaking Out, an experiment in Perceptive Media; BBC R&D

One of the main issues BBC R&D faced when they have tested the Perceptive Media radioplay is that the audiences could not separate the web-based content from the shiny screen – users would be waiting for something to happen on screen, rather than listening to the audio content.

Ian wanted to free the content from the screen, to see how audiences really reacted to Perceptive Media.

The Brief

The possibilities of networked things and Perceptive Media are vast, opening up content to be ‘remixed’ live or contextualised for an audiences’ environment and context.

Ian”s brief to us was to create a domestic radio-style object that would playback the radioplay and pull in data to adapt it to the user”s context. This would enable audiences to act naturally around the radioplay content, and for BBC R&D to understand more about Perceptive Media and audience behaviour.

We decided that the object itself would provide further data feeds – using analogue electronics and sensors – in addition to the web-based data already being collected.

The Domestic Environment

Influenced by networked objects that fit seamlessly into the domestic environment and serve a natural function – such as Voy”s UgleRussell”s Bikemap, the Good Night Lamp and Skrekkøgle”s own radio object, Plugg - we wanted to ensure that the object was a part of the home, not an intervention. The Perceptive Radio is a behaviourally-driven design.

To do this, we spent time role-playing, listening to the radio, and documenting how we behaved around them – as well as what else was going on around the home. There were three key scenarios that most frequently played out:

  • Pottering and moving about in one room
    (eg making a cup of tea, walking to and from cupboards)
  • Pottering and moving in and out of many rooms
    (eg housework, gardening)
  • Settled down to properly listen to the radio
    (eg armchair with a cup of tea and pet)

The first two scenarios point at partial attention – with radio as an accompaniment – whilst the third is a clear, focused attention scenario.

The environmental/behavioural elements that were most frequently documented:

  • Movement
  • Time of day
  • Spikes in ambient noise
    (eg a telephone call, washing machine spin cycle)

Designing The Perceptive Radio

The design challenge was to demonstrate how a networked object could deliver tailored media experiences that are sympathetic to domestic environments, without being disruptive or jarring.

Marrying the contexts with environmental behaviours was the next stage in domestic design:

  • What would a user want a radio to do when they are moving around a room frequently?
  • What would a user want a radio to do when someone calls them up?
  • What would a user want a radio to do when they are settling down to relax?

In order to avoid any unnecessary diversions or wrong routes, we settled on four key design rules:

  1. Behaviour of the audience as control input

The Perceptive Radio is to be designed as an object that is sympathetic to the domestic environment – something that sits comfortably and naturally in a home – and the behaviour of the listener affects the output. Passive, not active, inputs.

  1. No physical interactions

Whilst the box itself has many affordances that could be used as sensor inputs – such as orientation, angle, touch – it was key that the object itself would be secondary. A function, rather than a tool. So, beyond obvious controls (on/off, play, master volume), the user”s behaviour and environment would be the only control inputs.

Some workshop sketches about object affordances
  1. Meaningful inputs

As the user is the control input, the controls have to be meaningful. It is important that those controls are behaviours that already exist, and not attempt to create a new invisible control system. We focused on ambient sound and natural movement rather than forced gestures.

  1. Believable responses/effects

For the Perceptive Radio to fit comfortably into a domestic environment, the output (effects) from the interactions must be believable. There are many variables that could be mapped to interactions – such as pitch or dialogue pace – that would be jarring to the listening experience, rather than being sympathetic to the audience. All effects must be believable and beneficial to the user.

Four Design Scenarios

1. Pottering and moving about in one room: making a cup of tea.



Change in volume.

In this scenario, the user is moving around the kitchen, boiling the kettle, collecting mugs and milk whilst they listen to the radio. As they move away from the radio, the volume changes so that the user can hear a consistent volume level at all times.

2. Pottering and moving about in one room: large spike in ambient noise.



Altering the depth of the audio playback.

In this scenario, the user is moving around the kitchen and filling up the dishwasher whilst they listen to the radio. As the dishwasher kicks in and there is a large spike in ambient noise, the radio alters the depth of the audio playback to foreground the most important element (eg the actors voices).

3. Settled down to properly listen to the radio: lowered light levels.



Adjusting the EQ levels.

In this scenario, the user is settling down to a cosy evening listening to the radio. They stoke their fire and turn off bright lights in the room. The change in light levels in the room causes the radio to adjust the EQ levels, cutting most of the treble, to make a more relaxing listening experience.

4. Settled down to properly listen to the radio: large spike in ambient noise, movement.



Pause the playback.

In this scenario, the user is settled down to a cosy evening listening to the radio before being interrupted by phone call. The large spike in noise coupled with the user”s movement away from the radio, causes the radio to pause playback of the audio.

The Technical Approach

As an object, the Perceptive Radio is a bit of a trick on the user – it looks dumb, but is pretty powerful. The broad remit for the technical and object-design side was that it needed to be “small enough to fit in a box, fast enough to use Web Audio API” whilst processing data feeds from analogue electronics.

Working with Adrian McEwen from MCQN LTD in Liverpool to successfully put the internet into a thing, our first hope for running Breaking Out was a smartphone working with a Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Unfortunately, the Perceptive Media radioplay does quite a lot of heavy lifting – including Web Audio API and performing real-time object-based processing (putting a load of reverb on the text-to-voice synth) – which requires a good quality browser such as Chrome and a decent strength computer.

This kind of processing power is sadly not available in small things and – after testing Breaking Out on Android/iOS mobile devices, Netbooks, Chromebooks and an array of Raspberry Pi – we decided to build a compact Mini-ITX system (a 7″ PC) to power the Perceptive Radio. Using a Beaglebone board for the analogue electronics hub, we had a slightly larger than desired technical solution with enough power to process Breaking Out and analogue inputs comfortably.

The Object

The Radio object itself needed to accommodate a 7″ PC system, sensitive analogue electronics sensors and have capacity to add further sensors/functions later down the line and – crucially –  look natural in a home. Early thoughts around the box design included a classic boombox-style affair, a tall Cathedral design and a box.

Nintendo Gamecube, a design classic.

All had potential, but were never quite right – all either too bulky, odd or anachronistic. We brought Patrick Fenner on board – an “open source engineer” who makes 2D things 3D – to help “make the box”.

Patrick”s experience and speciality in rapid prototyping with lasercut materials took the direction towards a more Digital Radio design, using finger jointed edges, birch plywood and an acrylic fascia:

Patrick”s final design.

The addition of chrome suitcase corners and a carry handle are there for extra structure support and to enable Ian to carry the box comfortably on his travels to demonstrate it.

The Final Prototype

 

The Perceptive Radio at home
The Perceptive Radio”s innards

Credits

UX Design & Production

Greg Povey, Richard Birkin, James Rice, Mudlark

JS, Analogue Electronics & Technical Approach

Adrian McEwen, MCQN

3D Design & Build

Patrick Fenner, Deferred Procrastination

Producer

Ian Forrester, BBC R&D

Object-Based Audio

Tony Churnside, BBC R&D

Design & Product Consultant

Jasmine Cox, BBC R&D

Fork the code on Github: the Perceptive Radio / Perceptive Media.

Credits
The Perceptive Radio: a project for BBC R&D

In late 2012, Ian Forrester of BBC R&D approached us with an idea he had about taking the Perceptive Media experiment in new editorial formats prototype into a next stage.

Earlier in the year, we”d proposed a “perceptive” experience for the CBBC homepage, taking in data feeds to change how it was presented and incorporating playful elements (eg blowing away clouds if it was a rainy day near you), so Perceptive Media was a natural fit.

Breaking Out, BBC R&D”s original Perceptive Media experiment involved a two-character radioplay – one of whom was acted by a text-to-voice synthesiser – which uses data to adapt the content to the user”s context. eg using location data to fill in dialogue gaps such as weather or place names (“you can do anything, you can go to the Imperial War Museum” – if you”re in Salford/Manchester).

Breaking Out, an experiment in Perceptive Media; BBC R&D

One of the main issues BBC R&D faced when they have tested the Perceptive Media radioplay is that the audiences could not separate the web-based content from the shiny screen – users would be waiting for something to happen on screen, rather than listening to the audio content.

Ian wanted to free the content from the screen, to see how audiences really reacted to Perceptive Media.

The Brief

The possibilities of networked things and Perceptive Media are vast, opening up content to be ‘remixed’ live or contextualised for an audiences’ environment and context.

Ian”s brief to us was to create a domestic radio-style object that would playback the radioplay and pull in data to adapt it to the user”s context. This would enable audiences to act naturally around the radioplay content, and for BBC R&D to understand more about Perceptive Media and audience behaviour.

We decided that the object itself would provide further data feeds – using analogue electronics and sensors – in addition to the web-based data already being collected.

The Domestic Environment

Influenced by networked objects that fit seamlessly into the domestic environment and serve a natural function – such as Voy”s UgleRussell”s Bikemap, the Good Night Lamp and Skrekkøgle”s own radio object, Plugg - we wanted to ensure that the object was a part of the home, not an intervention. The Perceptive Radio is a behaviourally-driven design.

To do this, we spent time role-playing, listening to the radio, and documenting how we behaved around them – as well as what else was going on around the home. There were three key scenarios that most frequently played out:

  • Pottering and moving about in one room
    (eg making a cup of tea, walking to and from cupboards)
  • Pottering and moving in and out of many rooms
    (eg housework, gardening)
  • Settled down to properly listen to the radio
    (eg armchair with a cup of tea and pet)

The first two scenarios point at partial attention – with radio as an accompaniment – whilst the third is a clear, focused attention scenario.

The environmental/behavioural elements that were most frequently documented:

  • Movement
  • Time of day
  • Spikes in ambient noise
    (eg a telephone call, washing machine spin cycle)

Designing The Perceptive Radio

The design challenge was to demonstrate how a networked object could deliver tailored media experiences that are sympathetic to domestic environments, without being disruptive or jarring.

Marrying the contexts with environmental behaviours was the next stage in domestic design:

  • What would a user want a radio to do when they are moving around a room frequently?
  • What would a user want a radio to do when someone calls them up?
  • What would a user want a radio to do when they are settling down to relax?

In order to avoid any unnecessary diversions or wrong routes, we settled on four key design rules:

  1. Behaviour of the audience as control input

The Perceptive Radio is to be designed as an object that is sympathetic to the domestic environment – something that sits comfortably and naturally in a home – and the behaviour of the listener affects the output. Passive, not active, inputs.

  1. No physical interactions

Whilst the box itself has many affordances that could be used as sensor inputs – such as orientation, angle, touch – it was key that the object itself would be secondary. A function, rather than a tool. So, beyond obvious controls (on/off, play, master volume), the user”s behaviour and environment would be the only control inputs.

Some workshop sketches about object affordances
  1. Meaningful inputs

As the user is the control input, the controls have to be meaningful. It is important that those controls are behaviours that already exist, and not attempt to create a new invisible control system. We focused on ambient sound and natural movement rather than forced gestures.

  1. Believable responses/effects

For the Perceptive Radio to fit comfortably into a domestic environment, the output (effects) from the interactions must be believable. There are many variables that could be mapped to interactions – such as pitch or dialogue pace – that would be jarring to the listening experience, rather than being sympathetic to the audience. All effects must be believable and beneficial to the user.

Four Design Scenarios

1. Pottering and moving about in one room: making a cup of tea.



Change in volume.

In this scenario, the user is moving around the kitchen, boiling the kettle, collecting mugs and milk whilst they listen to the radio. As they move away from the radio, the volume changes so that the user can hear a consistent volume level at all times.

2. Pottering and moving about in one room: large spike in ambient noise.



Altering the depth of the audio playback.

In this scenario, the user is moving around the kitchen and filling up the dishwasher whilst they listen to the radio. As the dishwasher kicks in and there is a large spike in ambient noise, the radio alters the depth of the audio playback to foreground the most important element (eg the actors voices).

3. Settled down to properly listen to the radio: lowered light levels.



Adjusting the EQ levels.

In this scenario, the user is settling down to a cosy evening listening to the radio. They stoke their fire and turn off bright lights in the room. The change in light levels in the room causes the radio to adjust the EQ levels, cutting most of the treble, to make a more relaxing listening experience.

4. Settled down to properly listen to the radio: large spike in ambient noise, movement.



Pause the playback.

In this scenario, the user is settled down to a cosy evening listening to the radio before being interrupted by phone call. The large spike in noise coupled with the user”s movement away from the radio, causes the radio to pause playback of the audio.

The Technical Approach

As an object, the Perceptive Radio is a bit of a trick on the user – it looks dumb, but is pretty powerful. The broad remit for the technical and object-design side was that it needed to be “small enough to fit in a box, fast enough to use Web Audio API” whilst processing data feeds from analogue electronics.

Working with Adrian McEwen from MCQN LTD in Liverpool to successfully put the internet into a thing, our first hope for running Breaking Out was a smartphone working with a Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Unfortunately, the Perceptive Media radioplay does quite a lot of heavy lifting – including Web Audio API and performing real-time object-based processing (putting a load of reverb on the text-to-voice synth) – which requires a good quality browser such as Chrome and a decent strength computer.

This kind of processing power is sadly not available in small things and – after testing Breaking Out on Android/iOS mobile devices, Netbooks, Chromebooks and an array of Raspberry Pi – we decided to build a compact Mini-ITX system (a 7″ PC) to power the Perceptive Radio. Using a Beaglebone board for the analogue electronics hub, we had a slightly larger than desired technical solution with enough power to process Breaking Out and analogue inputs comfortably.

The Object

The Radio object itself needed to accommodate a 7″ PC system, sensitive analogue electronics sensors and have capacity to add further sensors/functions later down the line and – crucially –  look natural in a home. Early thoughts around the box design included a classic boombox-style affair, a tall Cathedral design and a box.

Nintendo Gamecube, a design classic.

All had potential, but were never quite right – all either too bulky, odd or anachronistic. We brought Patrick Fenner on board – an “open source engineer” who makes 2D things 3D – to help “make the box”.

Patrick”s experience and speciality in rapid prototyping with lasercut materials took the direction towards a more Digital Radio design, using finger jointed edges, birch plywood and an acrylic fascia:

Patrick”s final design.

The addition of chrome suitcase corners and a carry handle are there for extra structure support and to enable Ian to carry the box comfortably on his travels to demonstrate it.

The Final Prototype

 

The Perceptive Radio at home
The Perceptive Radio”s innards

Credits

UX Design & Production

Greg Povey, Richard Birkin, James Rice, Mudlark

JS, Analogue Electronics & Technical Approach

Adrian McEwen, MCQN

3D Design & Build

Patrick Fenner, Deferred Procrastination

Producer

Ian Forrester, BBC R&D

Object-Based Audio

Tony Churnside, BBC R&D

Design & Product Consultant

Jasmine Cox, BBC R&D

Fork the code on Github: the Perceptive Radio / Perceptive Media.

Credits
The Perceptive Radio: a project for BBC R&D

In late 2012, Ian Forrester of BBC R&D approached us with an idea he had about taking the Perceptive Media experiment in new editorial formats prototype into a next stage.

Earlier in the year, we”d proposed a “perceptive” experience for the CBBC homepage, taking in data feeds to change how it was presented and incorporating playful elements (eg blowing away clouds if it was a rainy day near you), so Perceptive Media was a natural fit.

Breaking Out, BBC R&D”s original Perceptive Media experiment involved a two-character radioplay – one of whom was acted by a text-to-voice synthesiser – which uses data to adapt the content to the user”s context. eg using location data to fill in dialogue gaps such as weather or place names (“you can do anything, you can go to the Imperial War Museum” – if you”re in Salford/Manchester).

Breaking Out, an experiment in Perceptive Media; BBC R&D

One of the main issues BBC R&D faced when they have tested the Perceptive Media radioplay is that the audiences could not separate the web-based content from the shiny screen – users would be waiting for something to happen on screen, rather than listening to the audio content.

Ian wanted to free the content from the screen, to see how audiences really reacted to Perceptive Media.

The Brief

The possibilities of networked things and Perceptive Media are vast, opening up content to be ‘remixed’ live or contextualised for an audiences’ environment and context.

Ian”s brief to us was to create a domestic radio-style object that would playback the radioplay and pull in data to adapt it to the user”s context. This would enable audiences to act naturally around the radioplay content, and for BBC R&D to understand more about Perceptive Media and audience behaviour.

We decided that the object itself would provide further data feeds – using analogue electronics and sensors – in addition to the web-based data already being collected.

The Domestic Environment

Influenced by networked objects that fit seamlessly into the domestic environment and serve a natural function – such as Voy”s UgleRussell”s Bikemap, the Good Night Lamp and Skrekkøgle”s own radio object, Plugg - we wanted to ensure that the object was a part of the home, not an intervention. The Perceptive Radio is a behaviourally-driven design.

To do this, we spent time role-playing, listening to the radio, and documenting how we behaved around them – as well as what else was going on around the home. There were three key scenarios that most frequently played out:

  • Pottering and moving about in one room
    (eg making a cup of tea, walking to and from cupboards)
  • Pottering and moving in and out of many rooms
    (eg housework, gardening)
  • Settled down to properly listen to the radio
    (eg armchair with a cup of tea and pet)

The first two scenarios point at partial attention – with radio as an accompaniment – whilst the third is a clear, focused attention scenario.

The environmental/behavioural elements that were most frequently documented:

  • Movement
  • Time of day
  • Spikes in ambient noise
    (eg a telephone call, washing machine spin cycle)

Designing The Perceptive Radio

The design challenge was to demonstrate how a networked object could deliver tailored media experiences that are sympathetic to domestic environments, without being disruptive or jarring.

Marrying the contexts with environmental behaviours was the next stage in domestic design:

  • What would a user want a radio to do when they are moving around a room frequently?
  • What would a user want a radio to do when someone calls them up?
  • What would a user want a radio to do when they are settling down to relax?

In order to avoid any unnecessary diversions or wrong routes, we settled on four key design rules:

  1. Behaviour of the audience as control input

The Perceptive Radio is to be designed as an object that is sympathetic to the domestic environment – something that sits comfortably and naturally in a home – and the behaviour of the listener affects the output. Passive, not active, inputs.

  1. No physical interactions

Whilst the box itself has many affordances that could be used as sensor inputs – such as orientation, angle, touch – it was key that the object itself would be secondary. A function, rather than a tool. So, beyond obvious controls (on/off, play, master volume), the user”s behaviour and environment would be the only control inputs.

Some workshop sketches about object affordances
  1. Meaningful inputs

As the user is the control input, the controls have to be meaningful. It is important that those controls are behaviours that already exist, and not attempt to create a new invisible control system. We focused on ambient sound and natural movement rather than forced gestures.

  1. Believable responses/effects

For the Perceptive Radio to fit comfortably into a domestic environment, the output (effects) from the interactions must be believable. There are many variables that could be mapped to interactions – such as pitch or dialogue pace – that would be jarring to the listening experience, rather than being sympathetic to the audience. All effects must be believable and beneficial to the user.

Four Design Scenarios

1. Pottering and moving about in one room: making a cup of tea.



Change in volume.

In this scenario, the user is moving around the kitchen, boiling the kettle, collecting mugs and milk whilst they listen to the radio. As they move away from the radio, the volume changes so that the user can hear a consistent volume level at all times.

2. Pottering and moving about in one room: large spike in ambient noise.



Altering the depth of the audio playback.

In this scenario, the user is moving around the kitchen and filling up the dishwasher whilst they listen to the radio. As the dishwasher kicks in and there is a large spike in ambient noise, the radio alters the depth of the audio playback to foreground the most important element (eg the actors voices).

3. Settled down to properly listen to the radio: lowered light levels.



Adjusting the EQ levels.

In this scenario, the user is settling down to a cosy evening listening to the radio. They stoke their fire and turn off bright lights in the room. The change in light levels in the room causes the radio to adjust the EQ levels, cutting most of the treble, to make a more relaxing listening experience.

4. Settled down to properly listen to the radio: large spike in ambient noise, movement.



Pause the playback.

In this scenario, the user is settled down to a cosy evening listening to the radio before being interrupted by phone call. The large spike in noise coupled with the user”s movement away from the radio, causes the radio to pause playback of the audio.

The Technical Approach

As an object, the Perceptive Radio is a bit of a trick on the user – it looks dumb, but is pretty powerful. The broad remit for the technical and object-design side was that it needed to be “small enough to fit in a box, fast enough to use Web Audio API” whilst processing data feeds from analogue electronics.

Working with Adrian McEwen from MCQN LTD in Liverpool to successfully put the internet into a thing, our first hope for running Breaking Out was a smartphone working with a Raspberry Pi and Arduino. Unfortunately, the Perceptive Media radioplay does quite a lot of heavy lifting – including Web Audio API and performing real-time object-based processing (putting a load of reverb on the text-to-voice synth) – which requires a good quality browser such as Chrome and a decent strength computer.

This kind of processing power is sadly not available in small things and – after testing Breaking Out on Android/iOS mobile devices, Netbooks, Chromebooks and an array of Raspberry Pi – we decided to build a compact Mini-ITX system (a 7″ PC) to power the Perceptive Radio. Using a Beaglebone board for the analogue electronics hub, we had a slightly larger than desired technical solution with enough power to process Breaking Out and analogue inputs comfortably.

The Object

The Radio object itself needed to accommodate a 7″ PC system, sensitive analogue electronics sensors and have capacity to add further sensors/functions later down the line and – crucially –  look natural in a home. Early thoughts around the box design included a classic boombox-style affair, a tall Cathedral design and a box.

Nintendo Gamecube, a design classic.

All had potential, but were never quite right – all either too bulky, odd or anachronistic. We brought Patrick Fenner on board – an “open source engineer” who makes 2D things 3D – to help “make the box”.

Patrick”s experience and speciality in rapid prototyping with lasercut materials took the direction towards a more Digital Radio design, using finger jointed edges, birch plywood and an acrylic fascia:

Patrick”s final design.

The addition of chrome suitcase corners and a carry handle are there for extra structure support and to enable Ian to carry the box comfortably on his travels to demonstrate it.

The Final Prototype

 

The Perceptive Radio at home
The Perceptive Radio”s innards

Credits

UX Design & Production

Greg Povey, Richard Birkin, James Rice, Mudlark

JS, Analogue Electronics & Technical Approach

Adrian McEwen, MCQN

3D Design & Build

Patrick Fenner, Deferred Procrastination

Producer

Ian Forrester, BBC R&D

Object-Based Audio

Tony Churnside, BBC R&D

Design & Product Consultant

Jasmine Cox, BBC R&D

Fork the code on Github: the Perceptive Radio / Perceptive Media.

Credits
Derby 2061

Today we’re ‘releasing’ a new ‘thing’. It’s an experiment…. a prototype… we’re not sure what it is yet…

Throughout the summer we’ve been playing with existing locative platforms. A lot of the time we get asked by clients to build them something using location, but a lot of the time it’s either just too damn expensive for the project, or would take away from the project by being tacked on to an otherwise nice tight package. Frustrated by the cost of new development, we decided to spend time messing around with what’s already out there. Even though we don’t like them so much, we started playing with QR codes to create contextual portals of interactivity, rather than strictly GPS-enabled gubbins. These were cheap, quick, easy like digital sketches. We tried out SCVNGR in a museum (in the V&A!).

Two of my favourite things are stories and time-travel. Everyone at Mudlark knows this. I like the layer that historical knowledge can apply to the everyday. It’s what Augmented Reality endeavours to do. Sometimes you don’t need apps, and sometimes you do. There are a few out there that have tackled history, so we thought we’d have a go at the future.

'Girl X' from Derby 2061
‘Girl X’ from Derby 2061

It started with Derby Train Station. I think we were just testing to see if Foursquare would let you make something up. It did. So we made an alternate version of the train station “location”. It was some time in the future, when a Monorail (the first sign of the future) arrives in town, and Toby started adding ‘tips’ about Memory Ports in the carriages (this set ended up setting the tone for the whole of the project).

On the next trip out of town, I checked into the future Derby Monorail Station on Foursquare instead of the present day version. The ‘Tip’, rather than a commercial for something around me, felt more like a story. It felt like a nugget of another layer. It made me want to find more. Add to that a healthy dose of Pat Cadigan and Philip K. Dick and the next thing you know there’s a spreadsheet and collaborative Google Map open and we’re barn-storming what Derby will be like in fifty years.

A bit of time and a fair bit of thinking later, and it’s ready to road test. Fifty locations scattered around Derby city-centre and Darley Abbey (where our studio is) exploring what the city might be like in fifty years’ time. There’s a story in it to find. In fact there are a few. There’s the story of new industry, of civilian life in a new culture changed by it, the story of buildings being repurposed, of politics, of clock-making and time. All told by a female guide from the future.

Luckily, Foursquare have just released ‘Lists’, providing us with an easy way to share the whole story with users. Click here for that. We’re also making a Wiki for all the bits of story we’ve invented, and hope to add more to it if people add nuggets of their own to the locations.

Greg’s still on the fence about this project. He keeps asking me what ‘it’ is. So, for Greg:

It’s an experiment to find out the following:

  • Can you tell a story on Foursquare?
  • Will users engage with it?
  • Will Foursquare and it’s user base let you mess with the program?
  • How does it square up as the surface layer of a deeper story (tested out on the Wiki but possibly transferable to long-form print)?
  • Is it just me being me, or can checking in to things that aren’t there feel like the future (or past)?

It’s right on time to be something for a load of southerners to play with when they come to Derbyshire this week to immerse themselves in old industry at our Laptops & Looms three-day event, where we visit the historical heart of the Industrial Revolution, sitting in silk mills pondering the future.