Last week we had two interesting visitors who each gave talks in the area of tangible computing. (Briefly, tangible computing explores ways of interacting with computers using real-world physical objects; much more info can be found online including at the Tangible Media Group at the MIT Media Lab). FXPAL has done a number of tangible interface projects over the years, including the PostBits project, the Convertible Podium, and others.
First, Hideto Yuzawa gave an informal talk on his recent work investigating the use of tangible interfaces to facilitate awareness and controlling interruptions. Hideto is an FX researcher, and has been a visiting researcher at UC Irvine for two years, where he worked with Gloria Mark. He’ll finish his work at UC Irvine and return to FX this month.
Later that afternoon, Sasha Harris-Cronin talked about some of the projects that BBI Engineering has done recently, including museum exhibits, corporate information installations, and other physically based interactives. Museum exhibits are often closely related to tangible/physical computing research: part of the educational mission of museums is to find new ways to engage the minds of visitors, and tangible interactions are a great way to do that. The Exploratorium in San Francisco was a leader in this “hands-on” style of interactive exhibits; now most science and tech museums follow this design paradigm.
Sasha showed us some of the recent projects coming out of BBI, including a suite of exhibits and experiences for the new California Academy of Sciences (BBI worked with Thinc Design and Cinnabar on this project). (She has worked in research settings as well – notably in her graduate work at NYU’s ITP program, with Tom Igoe. And you can see some of her political art – some of which has tangible aspects – on her website.)
One major difference between research prototypes and public exhibits: real-world exhibits must work 99.5 % of the time, for thousands of people, not 70% of the time for 5 people (to quote Sasha). This design constraint leads to the use of trusted technologies and systems, and experience counts for much. BBI’s (and Sasha’s) range of successful projects looms even larger bearing this in mind.