// FMP & Thesis – #6
“If I Only had a Heart”
A series of dysfunctional objects that play upon technological metaphors, exploring the meaning behind the usage of terms such as “Smart”, “Cloud” and “Virtual Reality”. How do these words affect our understanding and interaction with technology? Do they only act as rhetorics that persuades the user in believing nonexistent qualities?
- “Pulse” is a smart wearable that reacts to guilt and calms down upon being gently squeezed.
- “Point” is file sharing device that can upload and download files by pointing at clouds in the sky.
- “Peek” is a headset that traverses the virtual world and real world through the left and right eyes.
After some feedback and reconsiderations, the prototyping continued with some new materials and decisions. This time the main aim was to consolidate the (approximate) visual form, size, material and colour palette of these items, allowing them to have a united design language and juxtapose each other when displayed as a set.
Another aim was to also consider the practical side of it – how functional does it need to be? If the point was to communicate that these metaphors are often deceptive and not literal, then my objects won’t need to be practical in order to communicate, but playful in the way they answer and interpret those metaphors and promises.
With Pulse, I experimented with some existing red fabric from an old cardigan and tested how it could wrap around the spongey device. Cutting the fabric’s shape roughly and sticking it down, it quickly showed that it would lose its shape and show some unsightly folds here and there. It seemed that I needed to start working with some exact measurements rather than on the spot estimates.
Drawing out a template on paper, I carved out a new spongy inside for Pulse whilst also cutting out three pieces of fabric to be sewn together, forming a cover that could wrap over the entire sponge and should completely remove any bumpy folds. This method worked very well (with one slightly ugly connection, but nonetheless), and allowed Pulse to look like red, cake-like plushie. The red was a bit darker than I wanted (was expecting something a bit more magenta), but was enough to work with for now.
Cutting out a hole in the middle and giving it some cover, I tested it again with the first prototype’s fan and worked quite well. The next step would be to insert a servo into the middle whilst having the Arduino and pulse sensor attached at the back of the heart. Practically, all it needs to do would be read the user’s pulse from the sensor, vibrate according to some arbitrary guideline to indicate “guilt” and retain the sponginess of the shape. This should be enough to work in an exhibition setting whilst communicating the “smart” metaphor and raises questions about the topic. Hopefully.
Getting some more prototyping materials from shops, I spotted a really nice Grabber Hand which could form the basis of Point, the hand device. Whilst it was not the same exact extending motion I had utilised in the first prototype, the mechanism within the Grabber allowed me to rethink about some parts of my design, and with some basic customisation I had made it so that the hand would recreate a pointing motion when the trigger is pulled, rather than extending a pre-pointing hand outwards. This worked quite well in testing as the motion of pulling your fingers on the trigger mimicked the pulling back of fingers on the Grabber, which created the feeling of it being an extension of your hand.
Slicing out some basic rectangle shapes from blue foam, I made a form which somewhat resembled a forearm and a panel shape that could hold the upload/download option icons on the top. Whilst the original idea was to completely create a box/gauntlet that your arm could reach into, I felt that it would be nice to see the handle and trigger right at first glance rather than obscuring it, as it communicates some amount of silliness.
Whilst the hand itself claims it can actually download and upload by pointing at clouds, in reality of course it doesn’t have the technical capability to do so. By playing with the finger pointing trigger and the cloud upload/download icon I’ll be putting on the panel part, I hope to simply mock this function up for the exhibition and provoke questions regarding the nature of “cloud” storage to the audience.
With Peek, I took a cheap and existing smart phone headset to prototype with. Slicing off some components, I utilised paper to cover up most of the headset and allowed one hole for the left eye to see out of. Visually, this created a somewhat cute-looking imagery, as if it was a robot with one round eye. Playing with this idea I tried to create a peeking/blinking imagery with some paper.
Reconsidering the technicalities of the object, I decided to utilise the Touchscreen and Arduino from my Social Things project in order to mock the VR side of things. Of course a one eye VR device wasn’t going to work with just a basic screen (although I’ve heard some other VR devices can work very well with one eye), but the dysfunctional side of the object was the point, and thus questions the fact whether VR was really another world, a type of “reality” or just a visual trick and immersive techniques. By obscuring your vision and putting the focus on allowing only one eye to see, this object hopes to examine how VR plays with your vision and questions how the idea of immersion is conveyed by the term “Virtual Reality”.
Recovering the entire headset in yellow instead, the colour made the headset stand out a lot and gave it a much more humorous tone than the previous black. Using a cover for the Arduino also helped to give the headset a funny feeling, as if one eye was popping out. Whilst originally I had planned for the top to be a slider which moves a card left and right to cover each eye’s vision, I had now changed it to two pieces of slider moving up and down, which in the process created the imagery of a blinking eye and brow raising, making the thing a bit more silly in its visual language. This worked particularly well when it was being tested by others, as the brow raising mechanism really made the object more playful than I had originally planned.
With another round of prototyping over, it felt that the three objects were really starting to come together and told the project’s concept as a whole package. Their three distinct sizes, form, material and colour helped to convey the variety and playfulness, and whilst testing it in class, each object’s concept was communicated to the user quite easily without needing too much of an explanation.