IxD and Assistive Technology at UNSW Art & Design

Professional Portfolio – Week 06

Professional Portfolio – Week 06
This is what 200 x 1g packets of silica gel looks like

It’s been painfully clear over the past couple of weeks that I need to start testing the physical side of my project. Although I’ve been spending quite a lot of time banging my head against the wall with Max/MSP/Jitter coding, it will all be for nothing if I’m not prepared for whatever the physical input may be.

The sprawling nature of my work has also led me to take stock of exactly how much time I have left this semester, and just what I’m capable of outputting over the remaining weeks. In short, I had my biannual freak out and have changed tack for this project. The biggest change comes in the form of moving away from architectural projection and using the surface of the interface as a projection area.

Whilst I’m a little disappointed that I’m no longer attempting some of the large-scale ideas I had for this project, I think that ultimately they would be my undoing this semester. Particularly as there are so many variables outside of my control at the end of year exhibition (primarily what tech equipment I’ll have access to and exactly where my installation will be setup), it seems prudent to keep as much of my work as contained and predictable as possible.

I don't recommend attempting to empty 200 packets of silica gel single-handedly

So I’m now on the hunt for a fairly multi-purpose material: it needs to convey the feeling of digging upon the table (like digging through sand or dirt), it needs to be reflective enough to be useful as a projection surface and it also needs to be translucent enough to give me varying degrees of depth, visible by the amount of light shining through. Surely that can’t be too large an ask?

As the images above show, my starting place has been silica gel. I shan’t go into the details of removing silica gel from their 1 gram packets, but suffice it to say, it’s for suckers.

My first impression has been that it’s probably too lightweight and slippery. That is, it likes to move around freely (mostly on my floor). Nevertheless, testing must be done…

Infrared LED light setup for testing
Infrared camera, with a plastic container of silica gel above

I setup a small-scale version of what I imagine will be my final interface setup: infrared LED light above, infrared camera below (to be inside the table) and in this case, silica gel sandbox in between.

Because of the scale, it was impossible to frame the container of silica gel in the way it will be setup for the final work, but at least it gave me a chance to see how the gel works with motion tracking in Max/MSP/Jitter. The patch I’m using in these videos isn’t indicative of the type of tracking – nor output – I’m aiming for with this work. It’s simply some code-in-progress that I’ve used for testing the silica gel as a potential interface….


Download above Max/MSP/Jitter patch.

As I pointed out earlier, this video shows that the silica didn’t like staying put – it rushed to fill any gaps left by digging others out of the way. The video also shows the hot-point of light coming from the infrared LED, which I’d already noticed during Electronics. The next video shows the vast difference when using a larger container, plus a frosted piece of acrylic to diffuse the light…


This second video starts to give the kind of effect I’m after – areas where the silica gel has been clearly removed. However, I’m still not sold on silica gel being the solution I’m after. I think the next step is to look for a sand-like material, which has some degree of translucency. Something that holds its shape more predictably would be ideal.

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