Honours Studio 1 – Week 11/12

A big couple of weeks just jetted by. Assignments coming out my ears and scrambling to now get this project underway. Yep, I’ve finally met with my little participant (she’s just 2 years old) and so now the real (as in ‘physical’) work begins. I have to be careful to keep any identifying remarks about the family involved off my blog, so I will just stick to the technical bits for the time being.

As expected, one of the difficulties with this study is going to be figuring out which interaction is having the most impact. Particularly at a such a young age, there aren’t yet any clear signs as to which play (toys etc) interest her most. And so, my first inquiry will be tracking her preference for sensory interaction.

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'Dome' 3D mockup

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Midspan injector housing 3D mockup

My first design concept (pre-meeting the child) was a dome-like device, with holes in its cover (top image. Above image shows design for fabricating housing for the Freetronics Midspan Injector). By placing objects in the shell, the device would output corresponding sensory feedback (lights, sound, vibration etc). After observing the child however, I realised that this level of cognitive ability is probably beyond a 2 year old. Most kids that age just want to whack things. Don’t we all…

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'Square' 3D mockup in progress

The new design embraces that impulse, by using a combination of RFID readers and force (flex) sensors. By not needing to complete complex tasks and instead allowing very basic interaction (placing an object on top of another, or simply pressing an area), I’m hoping that it will reveal some of her interests.

Each section of the above image (work in progress) focuses on a sense (clockwise, from left):

  1. auditory (RFID controlled speaker);
  2. tactile (force sensor controlled vibration);
  3. visual (RFID controlled EL wire);
  4. and the brain (EtherTen microcontroller) being in the final quadrant.

It’s a very basic setup, but by tracking use of each section via a Pachube feed, it should inform my next set of designs.

With a couple of false starts for the questionnaire/feedback interface, it’s good to now know what I am designing for. The family participating in the study have an iPhone and iPad, which at first led me to cringe at Apple’s selfish $99/yr requirement for anyone wanting to develop for iOS (regardless of whether you’re selling in the App Store or not). This also counts out solutions which effectively wrap other coding languages for iOS, like the excellent PhoneGap and iProcessing. There are ways around the problem, like jailbreaking your device, but that’s not a road I’m ready to go down.

This really leaves me with the option of web interfaces. Fortunately, I came across the jQuery Mobile framework which takes care of the heavy lifting and creates a consistent feeling interface across pretty much any device/platform. My skills with javascript and PHP are limited, but after spending a little time with the tutorials, I can’t see that being a deal breaker.

Finally, some very-pseudo-science, with an RFID measurement test. After looking at which materials still allow the RFID signal to be read, the first design is likely to be constructed from plywood, purely for its low cost and simplicity. Once I get into further iterations of the design, I’ll possibly fabricate the housing with 2-3mm acrylic (certainly not aluminium)…

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