Hacking for Interaction

"True interactivity is not about clicking on icons or downloading files, it&s about encouraging communication." Ed Scholssberg

Last week, October 25-29, IxD2 had a course called Mobile Hacking with Matt Cottam and Brian Hinch from Tellart. Matt Cottam has been running versions of this class at UID since 2005, and Tellart has been sponsoring the course since the beginning. The students in this year&s course extended mobile devices (iPhone, iPod, IPad, Android phone) using custom software written by Tellart for the course as well as Flash CS5, a spectrum of sensors, actuators and Arduino boards.

The design brief for these five days of concept development and prototyping was to consider non-verbal communication and telepresence as constraints, while creating systems in which people could use their augmented mobile devices to interact with their pets when they were away from home. Using and adapting custom tools that Tellart brought in, the students were able to control everyday household appliances wirelessly from their mobiles.

Matt Cottam describes this class as "more skill-building focused than many other classes we teach where research and theory lead, and so these students (IxD2) were handed a really playful brief, which they were encouraged to interpret. Pet could mean a pack of pandas that likes to cook in your kitchen but leaves the stove on all of the time, or maybe you are managing a team of mice that are running an illegal gambling ring from your attic, for instance. The interaction with the pet could be to dispense a treat, or train them, or keep them from eating the mailman."

During the final presentations on Friday October 29th, one group demonstrated an application in which a light sensor allowed you to see if your cat&s food is running out on your iPad. Then by shaking the iPad you could shake a box of food back at home to call your cat, and by tilting the screen with the same gesture as pouring cat food from a box, you could refill the bowl. Despite the model clearly being a sketch made of wood and hardware store parts, it was wireless and it worked.

Another group experimented with an iPhone4 and a stepper motor. The interaction scenario allowed the world&s public to vote on live activities being conducted at the United Nations headquarters in New York. A large light bulb appeared suspended in air (fishing line) and a smooth upward swiping gesture on the phone&s screen caused the bulb to slowly rise towards the ceiling, whereas violent shaking caused the bulb to sink towards the floor. Audience members at the demonstration were invited to download the app to their personal devices and work as a group to control the height of the bulb, and there, live, again, it worked!

"In this class we are not just talking about apps for existing devices, we are encouraging students to hijack the enormous potential of modern mobiles as design sketching platforms, and to look over the horizon of what we currently use mobile and embedded computing for." - Cottam.