This past week was quite intense. The study of programming proceeded, with simple concepts gradually becoming more complex. We have played with Tangible User Interfaces (TUI), drew some more, and officially started brainstorming for our first assessed project, the “Small Object of Delight”.

Tangible User Interfaces

A TUI is a user interface in which a person interacts with digital information through the physical environment. One of the pioneers in tangible user interfaces is Professor Hiroshi Ishii, from MIT Media Laboratory.

Basic forms of TUI are mice and keyboards, but also the Xbox’s Kinect and the Wii’s controllers. A very interesting application of this technology is the AR Sandbox,  a Tangible Interface application that allows the user to view and shape topographic maps. In other words, the way a user will move the sand will make the AR software recognise a change in the ‘landscape’ of the sandbox, and it will shape the map accordingly. A heap of sand will become a mountain, a small trench will become a river and so on.
AR Sandbox at The Future Starts Here Exibithion, V&A Museum

Our first attempts in playing with TUIs were most certainly not this spectacular. We started from the basics, and therefore how to read information from hardware and translate it into a code that would do something in ‘real life’. In a way, it was not very different than reading temperature or light levels through sensors in Arduino.

We used a webcam and the reacTIVision software to create our first TUI. The software comes with a programming library that automatically detects the codes below when they enter a webcam’s field of vision.

reacTIVision codes

Very interesting stuff can be made up with these simple tools. You can attach sounds, visuals or virtually anything else to the codes, making the whole process fun and fascinating.

Once again, the programming part, for how simple in this instance, was a bit of an issue for me. I am still not fully familiar with elementary concepts like loops and libraries, so it did take some time. During the session, I and my colleague Nilou tried to attach a different background track to the codes to create a sort of basic DJ station. The results were not exactly the best in the universe, but we did have fun, and we’ve started exploring the very great potential of TUIs.

Small Object of Delight

I’m not going to write here an assessment brief about what this object should be like. In short, it could be anything that people would find enjoyable to interact with. It’s a project we will have to develop in pairs using both technology and craftsmanship, and we have roughly two months to deliver.

Okay, that sounded exactly like an assessment brief, my apologies.

The process through which we’ll deliver this thing has already started, and so far, the object could turn out to be literally anything. But more about that in a second.

We went through our workshops induction last week, and cutting wood had never felt so nice. There is something unique in manipulating and working with actual materials that is somehow lacking when working on digital-only projects, so I’m excited at the idea of merging digital and non-digital stuff in order to work on this and future projects.

Coming back to the “Small Object of Delight”, do you remember those mindmaps a couple of weeks ago? They were the starting point for this project as well.

We selected three of the items we had collected the week before during our trip to Kew Gardens and started brainstorming singularly on their shape, structure and texture.

In the end, we chose three words for each mindmap that we found interesting, and we will have to combine them to come up with fours possible ideas for the project. In case you’re wondering, these are the words that came out of my brainstorming session (I know, they’re very telling about me): Phoenix, Moon, undulatory, branching, fulfilling, Japan, overlapping, irregular, stairs.

Next week we’re going to expand on these concepts and come up with tangible project ideas. Thanks for reading!

3 Replies to “Tangible and Creative”

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