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Category Archives: design

On trains between Copenhagen Airport and the Swedish west-coast, you can observe all kinds of interesting human behaviour when people try to walk through the train. There are automatic sliding doors every now and then. Most people are familiar with the typical automatic door in for example shopping centres, that open automatically when you get within a certain range of the door. This is not the case on these trains.

sticker on train door

On the sliding glass doors, there is a small sticker with an icon, a hand and two arrows. I saw a number of people assuming that the sticker was a touch control, pressing their fingers against the sticker, hoping the doors would open, but this has no effect. Others make strange “Star Trek”-like salute gestures, but the doors remain closed. Some people look around and the sensor is located above the door. If a tall person approaches the door, it will open automatically. For shorter people, e.g. women and kids, the only gesture that will open the doors is by waving a hand above their head.

Proximity sensor
If Öresundståg were to change this, to improve the usability, do you think they would change the sticker (and if so what should it look like), or change the proximity sensor?

This is the first year of IT Tralee’s Masters programme in Creative Media. Seven brave and highly motivated students showcased their projects in the Kerry County Museum – a great venue for this activity. The quality of the exhibits was extremely high.

It is wonderful to see how the creative academic programmes have evolved at IT Tralee over the past ten years. From an early start with undergraduate multimedia to today’s fully-fledged and hyper-creative Masters programme. I have had the opportunity to follow the academic staff at Tralee for several years, as many of them came to UL for their own degrees.  They have now improved and appropriated what they learnt into a very strong curriculum. The Masters course in Tralee is focusing on content creation and production. The location, region and culture in County Kerry lends itself well for providing rich contexts to build on.

The expo runs until the 20th of June 2013 and I strongly recommend you go and experience the exhibition.

Still from Thomas G. Dineen’s STRUCTURE video

SAMSUNGWall of exhibits from Patrick Tobin’s Collaborative Design.

SAMSUNG

Listening stations for Lea Parker-Bond’s The Blow-ins

Short video clip of Shane Murphy’s video-wall FLOW

Now in the second year, we’re building the design@UL exhibition in Limerick City with a selection of our students’ design work. It’s quite an interesting experience when faculty from computer science, architecture, civil engineering, aeronautical engineering, etc., come together and talk about how to design and exhibition. You would imagine that we’re all singing form the same hymn sheet, but as design can be so many different things, the creative cacophony can be almost overwhelming at times. I think it’s an excellent interdisciplinary exercise and as we learn to work together, new ideas emerge and are negotiated.
This year, the exhibition opens on Tuesday evening, the 28th of May at 18:00 and runs until Saturday the 1st of June. Admission is free, so please call in and have a look, talk to the students and enjoy the creativity.

IMG_1097

For Science Day 2012 at UL, we decided to build a fun controller and sound synthesis demo. Over the past few years, we’ve had a number of postgraduate students exploring for example Galvanic Skin Response for artistic expression. It was slightly surprising to see the hype when Makey Makey launched earlier in 2012. I was puzzled that they didn’t seem to be aware of the work by for example Erkki Kurenniemi and Ralph Lundsten in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Kurenniemi’s DIMI-S is Lundsten’s Love Machine.
We were inspired by the original work by Kurenniemi and Lundsten and we designed and built a 16 channel analogue resistance multiplexer. The circuit uses four inexpensive CMOS chips (CD4051, 8-channel mux) and a couple of transistors (connected as a current mirror), connected to an Arduino and then to a laptop running Pure Data (PD). The Arduino controls what two pins that are active at any given time, rapidly scanning the whole matrix of possibilities (there are 240 possible connections, with 16 channels).
LoveMachine++ interface circuit
We then designed a sound synthesis system in Pure Data (PD) with both a spectral synthesizer, taking the parameters from the resistance matrix and doing a reverse Fast Fourier Transform, and a sequencer, where the mixing and filtering is controlled by the resistance matrix.
LoveMachine++ demo setup
We had to explain to the first few students that they had to touch at least two fruits or vegetables to get sound. After about an hour, word was spreading and experimentation flourished, with several students holding on to vegetables, shaking hands, touching foreheads, etc.

A short video clip from today’s demo.

Schematic diagram

LoveMachine++ interface Schematic Diagram

Bill of Materials

Name Value/Type Description Quantity
D1-3 1N4148 Diode 3
IC1-4 CD4051 8 channel analogue multiplexer 4
Q1-2 BC556 PNP transistor 2
R1 560K Resistor, 0.25W 1
R2 220K Resistor, 0.25W 1
R3 47K Resistor, 0.25W 1

Source code

Arduino code

PD patch

[note: I cobbled together a simple communication protocol in the code and patch above. Basically, an ASCII-based fixed packet length with a terminator character, which makes it easy to see and debug]

——

Some background on Kurenniemi’s work:

Mikko Ojanen, Jari Suominen, Titti Kallio, Kai Lassfolk (2007) Design Principles and User Interfaces of Erkki Kurenniemi’s Electronic Musical Instruments of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Proceedings of the International Conference on New Interfaces for Musical Expression, pp. 88–93.

With the emergence of wonderful audio apps such as Audioboo, it has become a challenge to record outdoors without the rumbling from wind hitting the microphone.
If you get some nice fluffy textile (see my note DIY Wind-jammer for Zoom H1), you can use a similar, but even simpler approach.
Cut textile
Cut a piece of the fluffy textile about 2 centimeters wider than your phone and about twice the length of the “base” of the phone.
Fold and stitch
Fold the textile with the fluffy side in and sew/stitch along the short sides.

turn inside-out, attach to phone
Turn the textile inside-out (so it gets the fluffy side out!)
Put it on your phone and record.

Happy Recording!

(and similar audio recorders)

For casual professional recording of everyday sounds, ranging from nature to interviews, the Zoom H1 is a very convenient and inexpensive device. With outdoor recording, wind is almost always present in places like Ireland. If you use a H1 as it is, your recordings will rumble with every puff of wind and destroy your recording.
To remedy this, I initially bought a simple foam windshield and this was sufficient on calm days. But for the normal gusts of westerly winds we get in Ireland, the design had to be improved. Rycote are making Mini Windjammers that cost around £STG25.  As I know how windjammers work, I found the cost excessive and the Rycote design perhaps not the optimal solution.
Fluffy textile
I bought some nice fluffy/hairy textile in a local shop (Hickey’s). The criteria for the material was that the base material should be as transparent as possible and the outer coating as hairy as possible. As this was shortly after St Patrick’s day, I bought 2 meters of a green fluffy material for 5 euro (which is enough for perhaps 20 windjammers).
Wire cage
Next, I made a small cage from brass-wire, to contain the H1. You can use any kind of semi-rigid wire for this.

After shaping the wire-cage, I folded some fluffy textile around it with the inside out and marked where to cut the textile.

Fluffy textile sticthed together, and Velcro

I sewed the front of the textile in a curve to fit the front of the wire-cage, and along the bottom I stitched on some Velcro, which makes it easy to put the textile on on the cage and to get, for example, a headphone cable through.

Elastic cage
Finally, I used some elastic band to hang the Zoom H1 in the cage, to prevent handling noise and other unwanted vibrations to be picked up, and inserted the cage with the H1 into the green fluffy tube. Zip up the Velcro and you’re ready for recording.

Zoom H1 and Windjammer

Finished H1 Windjammer

Happy Recording!

It is a real mystery that a lot of people think that touch screen and multi-touch technology is a novelty. Touch screens have a long history, see for example Bill Buxton‘s extensive research on this topic.
In my own work, I stumbled into touch screen research around 1984, while speculating about possibilities to optically interconnect VLSI circuits through optically transmissive substrates. As my own lab did not have the facilities to try out some of the ideas on a micro-scale, we fiddled with normal sized opto-components and circuits, assuming that the principles would scale down if we ever managed to get a budget to pursue this radical idea.
We never found any funding for the VLSI optical interconnects, but we continued to explore the possibilities with the experimental setup, which resulted in the largest touch screens in the world at the time.

Early touch screen prototype, 1986

We were very lucky to get in contact with the local transport company in Gothenburg who gave us an order for three prototype systems. This, in turn, led to contacts with Swedish Rail, via KNM electronics, and a full deployment of our touch technology at all railway stations in Sweden.

One of the first full-scale touch screen for public transport info. 1988

One of the STINS systems, developed for Swedish Rail. 1989.

As my own interest was and remain to make new prototypes, I refocused on making slightly smaller devices that would fit around normal computer screens, CRTs. We succeeded in designing such a smaller system, more lightweight and less expensive.

The VENTRI prototype. A General Purpose Portable Communicator with a touch screen. 1992

This led to explorations of how touch technology may be used by users with different forms of physical disability. We participated in the EU initiative TIDE – Technological Initiative for Disabled and Elderly. In this European collaboration we came to work together with Speech Technology Ltd and Circuits Test and Systems Ltd  at Trinity College in Dublin. The collaboration resulted in a pretty amazing prototype of a General Purpose Portable Communicator targeted at users who could not speak and with various degrees of physical and cognitive impairment. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find funding for any volume production and marketing of the device.

Touch screen for London Underground passenger info. 1993.

Later, I came in contact with Multimedia Technologies Ireland (MTI) in Plassey Technological Park in Limerick and Trinity College in Dublin. Together with MTI, we developed two prototypes of a system for interactive passenger information for London Underground.

My smallest touch screen prototype. Handheld. 1994.

I also started to fiddle with a really small device, a handheld unit. I made one single prototype and tried to show it, in confidence, to a few of the larger manufacturers. The one and only prototype disappeared during one of these excursions and I only have one single photo left of it, from around 1994.

Looks familiar, doesn’t it?

One of the main problems behind the boom-to-gloom economy is the illusion that buildings create value, or at least some kind of buildings. As I’ve written before, making things is crucial for our survival, but to keep making the wrong things for the wrong reasons is counterproductive, or put it more direct – stupid. Making things is good if these things are needed. If they are not needed, don’t make them. This applies to buildings as well. There’s no point building a garden shed if you don’t need it.
But more seriously, do we need more shopping centres in Limerick? I read in the Limerick Post today that the current Mayor of Limerick, Jim Long, wants more of the UK chains further dilute the viability of the few existing shops in the city.

“…my own preference here is for the Sainsbury, Marks and Spencer and the Asda chain, so successful in the North of Ireland.”

Now, that is the most stupid thing I’ve read, when said by a Limerick politician while the Limerick City Centre is decaying due to that the City and County have built an almost endless number of retail parks (what an oxymoron!) around the city. For each big chain store that opened along Childers Road, Ballysimon Road, etc., the local and often family run shops in town were forced to either close or relocate. You get what you plan for.

Parkway Valley chaos

Looking at the Parkway Valley area, there was a plan approved to build one of the largest shopping malls in Europe, which is totally insane when you consider that the population of the Limerick area is only about 140,000. The originally almost useless land on the east side of the Singland plane was envisaged to be worth multimillions if commercial rents and rates could be extracted for every square meter of soggy old flood plain. With the current state of the site, with massive unfinished concrete structures in place, the land is even worth less, and in my opinion it now has a negative value as the land cannot be used for anything sensible.

With the so called Opera Centre (which is a silly name), we still have time to do something more sensible. I think we should apply the term un-building to the site, which basically means to remove the derelict buildings and restore the land to a state where grass, trees and plants can grow, people can walk, play and breath and perhaps even have a few allotments for growing vegetables. Just imagine how inviting the city may look if the entrance to the city centre was green. By un-building, we open up all kinds of possibilities for the future while being able to enjoy the place now.

A first sketch of a new custom controller.

  • Sliders fading up and down
  • Knobs for turning
  • Cranks for turning
  • Buttons for activation – perhaps with aftertouch (force sensitive)
  • Switches for turning things on or off.
  • Wheels for turning
  • Squishy things for squeezing

USB i/o, perhaps using OSC protocol.

Build in a flight case.

controller sketch