After a few weeks of fabrication, code and iteration our team (Anthony, Brandon and me) showed our KNOB-project to the public at the ITP Winter Show 2017. Here a little update on the latest developments and iterations since our submissions to the pcomp finals.
code / pcomp
The code/pcomp setup stayed more or less the same for this last iteration: We used a 8266 node mcu wifi-module in combination with a raspberry pi inside the knob that picked up the data from the rotary encoder at the bottom of the metal pole counting rotations of the knob. The rotations were sent to a remote server (in our case heroku-server) via a node script (proofed to be easier than python for this use). On the server-side we reprogrammed the rotations to match 1000 rotations for full brightness of the LED. The pwm-data was sent to another pi inside a white pedestal with the LED on top of it. The pi controlled the brightness of it directly. For all remote connections we used itp-sandbox as wifi-network.
For the fabrication part of the project we iterated mostly on the outer materials of the knob and the resistance of the rotational movement of the bearings. After priming it with white primer we initially wanted to paint it in rosegold - as a nod to Jeff Koons and Apple product fetishism. Then we realized that this might be a too distracting and cynical take on a generally playful concept and decided to use felt as the main outer material of the knob. The audience should want to touch it and and immediately feel comfortable with the soft material. It proved to be a good choice - the feedback from the audience was great, everybody liked the softness and feel of the felt. We chose black as it seemed to show the use by a lot of hands less fast than grey or a brighter color. It accented the general black and white color scheme of the arrangement as well.
For the LED we built a wooden pedestal to house the raspberry pi and battery pack and painted it white.
To add more resistance to the movement we added 4 coasters to the bottom of the rotating part of the knob and padded the wooden rail in the base with thick foam. The coasters were rolling on the foam, the compression of the foam by the casters produced a slight resistance for a single caster. Multiplied by four the resistance was big enough to keep the rotating part from spinning freely when a lot of force was attached. We were initially worried about the creaking noise of one coaster, but during the show this was irrelevant as the general noise of the audience covered this.
concept & show feedback
We changed our concept fundamentally: On Sunday, the first day of the show, we turned the LED on to full brightness with 1000 rotations clockwise on the knob. On Monday, the second show day, we reversed this tedious process and turned it slowly off with 1000 rotations counterclockwise.
On a separate iPad screen running a webpage the audience could keep track of the number of rotations. Why a thousand? We just felt it was the right number. The direction of the rotation for the day was printed on a simple black foamboard suspended from the ceiling - it should look as simple, intuitive and familiar as a daily menu in a restaurant.
We felt that this scaling of the interaction itself was a natural fit to the scaling of the knob: Not only the physical scale changed but as well the procedural. This focused the perception of the audience stronger on the core of the concept: to enjoy an interaction for the sake of the interaction itself - to invoke a meditative and communal state of action as the knob is usually turned with a group of people.
In the show this iteration was well received. Not only because of its conceptually balanced approach towards the timing of the reward of the interaction, mostly the audience described a feeling of comfort in talking to strangers while performing a repetitive manual task together. One group compared the experience to a fidget spinner for groups that could be used for brainstorming activities in a board-room. Another participate recounted childhood memories of sorting peas together.
While a few participants, mostly children, tried to raise the number of rotations, and therefore as well looked at the iPad showing the current number of rotations, the LED as main output was generally received as a minor part of the process of creating a communal experience.
Our installation definitively hit an important aspect of technology: an interaction can create a meaningful and satisfying experience as interaction itself when it helps creating a sense of belonging and community - even without an instant gratification or a short term purpose. [link to video]
We decided not to use AR as an output as there is still a device needed by the user. This shifts the focus of the audience to the output and distracts from the physicality of the object and the interaction with this physicality - something we wanted to avoid. AR still is conceptually stronger as an output as it is in itself non-existent and weightless. It was a difficult decision but in the end a simple output as an LED and the exaggerated scale of the interaction over 1000 rotations prooved to be stronger in the context of the winter show and its abundance of interactive pieces on a small space.
We felt very honored to be part of the show and the ITP community. Thanks to whole team behind it, especially the curators Gabe and Mimi. And big thanks to our PComp and IFab professors Jeff Feddersen and Ben Light for the great guidance and feedback during the whole process.
Here a few impressions from the show: