Throughout 2014 I will be carrying out the observational study side of my PhD research (finally, thank goodness). The first stage of this will be conducted inside an interactive dome tent, much like you’d see used for camping (the tent part, not the interactivity). Without going into a whole lot of detail, the reason that I’m using a tent is because I aim to make the space feel as though it’s an environment in itself; that the person inside could be anywhere, and not influenced by the cold, grey walls of a university room.
I discovered that there’s a surprising amount of information out there for people wanting to build their own domes – in particular the geodesic variety – and I used this site to come up with the segment shape for my own tent. I’ll point out now that the pattern generated by that page didn’t create a true dome shape for me; the final shape is slightly higher in the middle (the pattern has too sharp a point at the tip), but for my purposes, this isn’t a problem.
The two elements that are notably different in this tent are the material used and the way I have installed the frame. The material recommendation came from this guy and can be found on Amazon. Originally, I was planning on projection mapping onto the dome and for this the shower curtain material recommended in his video is actually quite impressive: it picks up light well and is amazingly cheap when compared to professional projection screen. The only caveat I should point out is that it’s not the easiest material to sew and so isn’t totally suited to working in three dimensions. For textiles amateurs (me), you’ll end up perforating the material along the stitching line. Without the assistance of a fellow postgrad who is a genius with the sewing machine, I would have spent an inordinate amount of time with a glue gun and a scowl.
After a bunch of testing, I decided that projection mapping was just adding a whole lot of complexity that wasn’t needed. I would have to use at least three projectors for all the angles around the dome and getting those three real-time video feeds to match up nicely with each other is a PhD in itself. Most importantly, I realised that the issue of representation would eventually come back to bite me. Questions of why I chose certain images would lead me down a path that I’m frankly not interested in. What I need is a clear relationship between the interaction with and the response of the system (audio and visual).
So instead, I returned to my trusty DMX-controlled RGB LED lights. Using simple colours and shapes will let me make repeatable and clear links between action and reaction, without the concern of subjective response to imagery. The lights are also easy to control from Max (via the DMX USB Pro) and is much easier to scale, should the evolution of this project lead me in that direction.
Although the projected visuals have changed, the physical design of the tent has remained the same. Probably the most unique part of this is the frame that sits about 30cm out from the material itself. I did this to try and avoid shadows being cast on the tent where possible. With the frame sitting out from the tent and the attaching tabs being transparent, the light can be directed underneath the poles and give more consistent and even lighting when observing from the inside.
At this stage, the tent is sans entrance. This makes it quite an interesting experience from the inside, but totally unsuitable for working with autistic children, who can be overwhelmed by confined spaces. So the next stage of testing will be to decide on the size/position of the entrance and the arrangement of lighting. I’ve ordered a school disco worth of LEDs from China, and in the meantime will continue working on a Max patch to drive the whole thing. The video below is the first test, filmed from inside the tent. The lighting changes are far too random and washed out, but it’s a start…