Maker Movement Mania

If These Walls Could Talk…Oh Wait They Can!

Ken Kaplan Executive Editor, iQ by Intel

As technology becomes more pervasive its role in public spaces continues to morph, shift and develop, changing how people interact with buildings, each other and the greater world around them.

Curious to explore these shifting boundaries, three creative researchers from Intel Labs recently staged an interactive art installation at Amplify Us, an event  in Minneapolis put on by EYEO and Northern Spark to celebrate the confluence of art, design, and technology.

The aim of the installation was to “amplify the social interaction between people and the architecture,” said Victoria Fang of Intel Labs.

Amplify Us draws a crowd of folks interested in the intersection of data, art, and interaction and deeply invested in open platforms. For a single night, the city became a fully wired environment with visual, auditory, and tactile experiences taking command of social interactions.

Fang’s team used Intel Galileo technology to create immersive experiences that sensed, sonified, and visualized social interactions at the event.

Architecturally inspired touch panels were attached to giant columns in a glass enclosed lobby, people could then interact with the panels and alter the light and sound of the entire lobby which stretched four stories high.

As the columns were twenty two and a half feet apart and forty feet high the social amplification could be quite dramatic.

When 5 or more people collaborated to create a chain holding hands through the space, a special party mode was triggered, creating a light spectacle and dance soundtrack.

Fang served as the design lead while her Intel Labs teammate Seth Hunter worked with the hardware, building the breakout boards and getting the capacitive touch to work.

The third amigo, Dimitri Diakopoulos, and expert in perceptual computing, wrote the program (in node.js) that assigned different colors to different levels of interaction.

Judging by the comments of the team members and the happy faces of the festival goers it was by any measure a success.

“We caught people coming out of the symphony together and they ended up doing the Harlem Shake,” Fang said.

Diakopoulos was thrilled by people’s reactions.

“To see the interaction we did without promoting it, that kind of emergent behavior of people playing in an interactive glowing space, made it all worth while,” he said.

The core team that pulled the installation together had simply been planning to attend the festival, but when their proposal for ‘Amplify Us’ was accepted they quickly shifted from concept into execution mode.

“EYEO is a new community of creative developers converging to do interesting things with art and data,” said Fang “and we thought, ‘What might they do with new hardware platforms?”

For the team, it was exciting to see their work on this scale and to be contributing to a group they truly respected was an even greater reward.

“The EYEO community is full of people we admire, and for them to finish the keynote and then come out playing with the space we created we really felt we had contributed something,” said Hunter.

Computing hardware like Intel Galileo is opening up the possibility to contribute in this way to ever larger communities, and Hunter sees the possibility of continued growth.

“These kinds of concepts have been in the interactive art world, we’re just catching up to emerging trends and bringing these ideas to the general public, to novices, to tinkerers,” he said.

It’s installations like ‘Amplify Us’ that not only can shift public perception but also provide a new kind of interactive feedback loop through direct interaction with the general public.

“It’s on opportunity to be part of the conversation instead of just listening,” said Fang.”

“By participating and really putting our stuff out there, it should yield benefits for all,” said Diakopoulos . “We can learn from the community, and apply it back directly to things we build in hardware and software.”

In the spirit of inspiring others and the general gestalt of the Maker community the project files can be found on github.

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