CITY PROJECT – AUGMENTED COMMUNICATION
This project serves as an ideal introduction into the vast world of Prototyping. The possibilities entailed therein are limited only by the imagination. Choices in themes were likewise developed at the discretion of the students, allowing for a more direct involvement of the student as opposed to the conventional methods in which the courses’ Project Supervisor would have directed the student in choice of themes. The Project Supervisors guidance was key in nurturing and subsequently bringing into fruition, the concepts developed by the students and for this, the teams eternal gratitude goes out to the Course Project Supervisors. In our case, the initial theme chosen was “SOUND”, and so began an exciting journey from concept inception, through several iterations, all the way to optimization and production of the final chosen prototype – An Augmented Communications’ Module.
With the vast array of inter-complimentary disciplines available during the first semester, inspiration for the initial concept was not a problem, on the contrary, it was narrowing it down that presented some difficulty. The choice to work with sound within specific contexts seemed like a logical starting point considering the high levels of artificial ambient noise in the environment. This choice was well justified when the subject was researched, revealing myriads of possibilities for concept development. Under the expert guidance of the Project Supervisors, the teams ideas were narrowed down and the possibilities for development were assessed.
Proof of Concept: The idea at this early stage was to present working evidence to the effect that the technology available can facilitate construction of a functional prototype. The idea was to implement core skills attained at the Technologies course to implement a prototype. The initial concept was centered around augmenting the sound experience by making it tangible, whereupon it was anticipated that applications for such a unit could be found in the field of Augmented Reality, however, results for haptic sensitivity attained upon construction of an elementary glove unit were inconclusive, ergo, this direction was promptly discarded in favor of more practical field of application. The unit was determined to be limited in functionality, possibly due to the mechanical nature of the design (Fig – 1a & 1b). Sights were turned to Sensory perceptions for a broader and yet simpler field of application – Touch! Prototyping Logs were maintained for the various stages of development.
And thus began the systematic development of the Augmented Communications’ Project, through the following stages:
- Assessment of Concept: The concept was reassessed. It was deemed necessary to revert to first principles to find a simpler and more elegant solution. Man perceives his environment to a large extent, through touch. The entire human body is sensitive to touch, logically, we sought to take advantage of this by developing a device that would stimulate the senses of touch. With the intention of making the unit as accessible and as cheap as possible, it was decided that low tech solutions would suffice, and so Vibro-motors were selected for stimulation of the haptic sensors. (Fig 2a Vibro-motors Concept, Fig 2b – Tests on a glove interface).
- Modifications on the Concept: The concept was further simplified on the basis that the hands are not necessarily the most sensitive of the human skin surface, nor is it the most convenient for stimulation by such Haptic devices. It was determined that having a glove for such an interface would hinder the normal functionality of the hand. It was therefore decided that the device would have to be something more versatile and should be deployable on any part of the body. A series of tests on the sensitivity of the skin to touch were conducted on various surfaces from the hand, through the upper back to the neck region, upon which it was determined that even though sensitivity varied, one was able to distinguish and perceive the Vibro-motors with an acceptable degree of accuracy.
- Iterations on the haptic Strip: The choice of a final working concept was made on the basis of its versatility. It’s suitability and functionality was conclusively established during the tests on the early versions of the haptic strip. (Fig. 3 – Haptic Strip on hand).
At this stage the haptic strip existed in its elemental form, this being comprised of the ICU – Arduino – Nano, the Input – output transmission and reception module – in the form of a Bluetooth module, and the Vibro-motors. (Fig. 4 – Components of the Haptic Interface). Subsequent iterations of the same ranged from the hand interface, to a strip on the arm, of which there were several versions depending on the materials chosen and of which it was decided that silicon would be best suited for the intended purposes. (Fig. 5a – Tensile cloth haptic interface, 5b – Silicon Haptic Interface)
- Conclusions and lessons Learnt: Not taking into account the various technical skills required to produce the prototype, and assessing the Project exclusively on the criteria of the resultant prototype, its functionality – as per intended design and its aesthetics, the prospects for future optimization of the prototype are realistic. It was likewise determined that applicability and use of such a prototype within certain contextual communication protocols was not farfetched. The intuitive nature of the patterns made for easy memorizing when the prototype was used. Further developments of this interface could be carried out in the direction of design of hardware compatible apps for devices such as cellphones and tablets. In addition, further work can be done with regards to miniaturization of the strip. This can be achieved by accessorizing the element as a part of inner ware such as lightweight vests once the strip has been thinned out to appropriate scales. In this instance, concerns still exist over the safe washing of such wearable technology, in light of which it seems appropriate to have the strip along with all electronics installed as a removable device which can be temporarily glued onto the vest or a long sleeved shirt. In such an instance, the wearable tech should merge seamlessly with the inner garment.
- The Prototype: