Developing prototype work

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A Different View on Public Space

The wearable Prototype is a research tool designed for a subjective approach of public space. In the perspective of a wearable device it adds an...

The wearable Prototype is a research tool designed for a subjective approach of public space. In the perspective of a wearable device it adds an additional layer to our own abilities of sensing, processing and reacting to information we perceive in public space. As our perception of reality turns out not to be neutral, but highly dependent on subjective evaluation, we do not see the world as it is. Rather we perceive it as it appears to us, and every act of perception becomes inherently an act of interpretation based on human needs, desires, believes and experiences. Our genes and our lives’ experiences eventually provide the framework for how our perception is structured, filtered and evaluated.

Our technical prototype is meant to be an experimental tool that gives a certain twist to this perceptual framework by superimposing additional sensing, processing and actuating facilities in addition to the senses we already have. It takes conditions of perception as variables of unstable nature, consisting of physical and technical input data that become converted into symbols. Input of both, spatial conditions and wearers choice, is being absorbed by the prototypical system with the aim of creating its own vocabulary. This is what we call “subjective” approach in the sense of a self-contained set up which defines itself through its implementation in time, free of presets opening the possibilities for interesting deviations in behavior. The system is supported by software and hardware components, as well as by a physical user-space interface.

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Software

On a very basic level it was important to create and provide an extendable setup.  Furthermore a non-deterministic system, which is open in the way,...

On a very basic level it was important to create and provide an extendable setup.  Furthermore a non-deterministic system, which is open in the way, that it can react differently to various situations by changing the processes in it selves.

Raw sensor data enters a processing unit, which consists of a number of different sub-units. The processing unit has the function of generating “meaningful” symbols. A symbol is constructed from sensor input that is transferred to a uni-modal dataset. Several uni-modal sets together form a multi-modal dataset. Then via clustering, a kind of pattern recognition, a new symbol is created according to similar features. A symbol contains all dimensions, which we sense for a certain amount of time but compressed to clusters, which can be processed further. In this process it is not only about each information channel which comes in, further more they are highly dependent on each other. In the last step the symbol is evaluated based on certain rules and sent to the actuator unit. All available sensor data at a given time is stored as a multi-modal dataset or snapshot, like a single frame in a video. As the amount of gathered snapshots increases, patterns emerge of which one pattern that is strong enough will eventually be stored as a symbol. The person wearing the device supports this process by identifying meaningful symbols in adding subjective evaluations to the dataset via the user input channel. Once a symbol is established and sufficiently appreciated by the wearer, the device will become a guide that communicates the presence of a symbol via its output functions, thus amplifying, highlighting, and emphasizing what originally has been assigned as subjectively valuable to the carrier. In the end we have coded and abstract information (symbols), which describes a multiplicity of conditions.

In addition to the sensors, we have actuators, programmed to vibrate in different frequencies. Furthermore there are two speakers emitting sound at a different frequency. To make a decision about what specific symbol and which values within it will inform which actuator, we invented a kind of pattern recognition system. It is based on the idea that each of the actuators (output channels) is sensible for a certain range of values transmitted by single symbols. Through the algorithm we gain a multi-dimensional output that has the ability to describe an abstract symbol in such way that it may be experienced in physical manner. This process of translation has the advantage of compressing very complex information perceptible.

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Hardware

At one point we decided to work with the open source platform Arduino to provide an open, accessible system. For our prototype, we started with a...

At one point we decided to work with the open source platform Arduino to provide an open, accessible system. For our prototype, we started with a rather limited set of sensors (distance and sound), which we believed would be suitable for pointing out the presence of others as well as certain spatial qualities (like narrow or wide), thus attempting to cover both the social and physical conditions of public space. We also added an extra “input channel” that allows the wearer to give feedback directly to the system. Regarding the output we were going for subtle stimuli, namely sound via speakers and vibration. We deliberately avoided straining the wearer’s senses as portable technology often does, like attention-absorbing cell phone screens or acoustically isolating headphones. In other words, we were trying to incorporate ways of feedback that we thought would allow the wearer to stay aware of the immediate surroundings allowing engagement with them, as opposed to shielding off from them.

In addition to the immediate feedback provided by vibration motors and speakers, the device also stores the data, so that it can be used for further steps of visualization and mapping. Processing and routing is provided by an Arduino-Board, placed in an elongated section of the device at the upper back of the wearer. An SD-card module is used for storage. Arduino allows for the communication occurring between different sensor components and the data processing system.

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Design Considerations

We decided to interact with the sensitive region of shoulder and neck, and to deliver acoustic as well as vibrating signals to be perceived by...

We decided to interact with the sensitive region of shoulder and neck, and to deliver acoustic as well as vibrating signals to be perceived by various senses including the skin. The skin can be interpreted as a place where the body ends but also where the exchange with its surrounding begins. This change of meaning of the skin, referred to non-close spaces or the place of the “in-betweenness” in reference to Michel de Certeau’s book called “The Practice of Everyday Life”. The concept of “In-betweeness” describes a condition of perennial change, where often antagonist states meet with allowing or conflicting identity. The “In-betweeness” is a place of exchange, of constant movement, of the not categorized, a place of epistemological and ontological crisis, an unstable transition zone.

The wearable prototype deals with the effort of transformation beyond mapping and analysis, in connection to the users experience and collected data in public space. Indeed the skin is at some point a kind of intermediate territory between the software and the user. The experience is given practically directly to the users perception with no particular expectation as it does not reveal any meaning of the collected information it conveys. It rather tries to melt into to the overall sensual layer of public experience.

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Technical Design

As we wanted to provide a 360° range for distance sensors and microphones, we designed the device to be worn around the neck, as the neck is one of...

As we wanted to provide a 360° range for distance sensors and microphones, we designed the device to be worn around the neck, as the neck is one of the few parts of the body where the sensors are unlikely to be obstructed and at the same time its sensitive skin can be stimulated by vibration, and the distance between the speakers and the ears remains reasonable. Therefore we were able to place all of the components – input, output and processing – in one compact enclosure. The outcome was a kind of skin garment with an embedded hardware that adapts to the varying size of its users and works as an interface for data reception, data transmission and production of new data. It stands for the embodiment of software and hardware, representing an allegory to the self-contained approach of the Data Logger. 

As for the choice of materials we were looking for something that would provide flexibility and comfort, but would still be strong enough to protect the electronic components inside. After considering a design made of sewn textile, we went for molded silicone which allowed us to cast a part that incorporates all the necessary features into one single piece. For reasons of manufacturing constraints and accessibility of the components, we decided on a construction made of three layers of silicone: a base layer, that would eventually rest on the wearer’s shoulders, a middle layer to keep the electronics in place, and a top layer that would cover them and would extend where more room for certain bulkier parts was necessary.

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Making of/ 1

As soon as the basic design decisions have been made, we went on to produce various working models made of different materials like cardboard and...

As soon as the basic design decisions have been made, we went on to produce various working models made of different materials like cardboard and rubber that could be manufactured very quickly by laser cutting. This allowed us to test and refine certain aspects of the design, like distribution of the electronic components, fitting, etc.

A detailed wiring plan was worked out and the necessary connections between the electronic components were determined. We also started to do some casting tests in order to find silicone that was neither too soft nor too hard, that provided enough elasticity and could be easily removed from the moulds. Certain surface patterns were also tried out at that stage. One reason was to keep the lower part from touching the body with its entire surface to prevent excessive heat and sweating. A second reason was to create a texture for the upward-facing layer that would moderate between the parts sticking out and the otherwise flat surface. This pattern was generated in 3D modeling software using a graphical algorithm editor based on certain rules: the proximity of a component like a microphone or a rangefinder would large the knobs that cover the surface, and an increase of distance would result in their height’s decrease. The result was a smooth transition from an almost flat to quite bumpy. At the same time, the soldering and wiring of the electronics were taken care of by the electronics team, and since the actual enclosure at that time was not near to be finished, they were given a dummy copy of the base layer, so that the length of the cables and the position of the electronics could be accurately taken into consideration.

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Making of/ 2

As soon as the final shape of the enclosure was established, we went on to actually producing it. When casting, you need molds, which were to be...

As soon as the final shape of the enclosure was established, we went on to actually producing it. When casting, you need molds, which were to be produced by means of a 3-axis CNC-milling machine and solid polyurethane. The mold for the base layer was simple, since there is no change in the height of the knobs that make up its surface pattern. The knobs themselves were easy to produce: they were designed to match the shape of a spherical milling tool and therefore could be created with a single touch of the tool in the mould.

The middle layer was even simpler, as it was basically just a sheet of silicone that was cut where the components were supposed to sit. It was cast on a clean, flat piece of acrylic glass and then laser-cut along the contours.

The most challenging part was the upper layer: concerning the design because of the surface pattern and the extending bumps for the bulky electronics, and concerning the production, because those bumps needed a second, inverted mould to act as a placeholder for the components, in order to prevent the liquid silicone from filling their space. The exact positioning of this inverted mould was critical, since there was only a thin layer of air (later silicone) between it and the actual mould, so any inaccuracies would inevitably lead to changes in wall thickness or, in the worst case, a hole in the silicone skin. Casting was mostly unproblematic: the viscosity of the liquid silicone was low, so we basically just poured it in, apart from the knobs that needed a bit of extra treatment – in order to avoid air to get caught under the silicone as it filled the cavities that would later become the knobs, we had to force it in with a scraper. Luckily, for the most parts we were able to avoid any defects, and, once they were dry, parts could easily be removed from the moulds on the first try.

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Assembling

At this time, electronic components and individual silicone layers were still separate. First the middle and bottom layer had to be glued together to...

At this time, electronic components and individual silicone layers were still separate. First the middle and bottom layer had to be glued together to provide the frame for the components and cables. Later ones, now fully soldered and wired together, was placed in between two sandwiched layers and sealed with liquid silicone. Finally, the last layer was glued around the inside of the ring-shaped enclosure. The outside was kept open, providing access to the electronics. A transparent acrylic glass bubble was then placed on the back of the object (between the shoulder blades) to cover the biggest electronic components, such as the Arduino-board and the battery. With this last part finally in place, the device was ready for testing.

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