CIID, Design playground

Project update 5 …. Experiment in symbiosis 1 :

The experiment in testing a posible symbiotic relationship (above) and what it’s supposed to do (below)

Thats the setup on my desk (below) at CIID , where I have the device talking to twitter (sending messages to the owners account and looking for his activity) via processing. which is then communicating to the arduino, controlling the feeder mechanism.  A webcam attached to the stem of the ‘Poet’ , functions as an eye and looks down at the fish in the bowl.

It took me a couple of days to craft the feeding mechanism(as seen below , above the bowl) and its a simple robust system now, which can perhaps store enough feed for a month.






CIID, Design playground, Thoughts

Project update 4 : Thoughts and Experiments…

Its week 4 of my project and I am in the process of building up the experiments I spoke about in my last post. But before that I wished to take a step back and talk about whats brewing in my head now

“My challenge in this phase would be to design and test meaningful experimental setups to explore possible symbiotic relationships between people and electronic objects in the natural and electronic climates we live in today.

These experiments would serve to see how symbiosis introduced in interactions could affect behaviour in the test subjects in terms of a more involved sense of attachment and reverence towards these objects. It would also be interesting if these experiments impact his/her awareness of the environment they are part of.


I wished to come up with experiments which would explore these relationships within the context and perspective of a single human being, his social network and the environment .

The starting point would be that of the defining experiments with the objects (as illustrated above)  and to see how relationships would radiate from that circle towards the environment and the human being.


In thinking about symbiosis and how I could design experiments , I decided to look at networked objects and the two realms we tend to reside in today.

In order to talk about what I have been thinking , I am using the illustration below , which speaks about the physical and digital space :

An essence of our physical selves permeates through the membrane towards the digital sphere where our online avatars and persona’s reside. In a similar vein it is interesting to think about digital objects whose essence permeates through the membrane too.

‘The Internet of things’ and ‘ambient intelligence’ in objects around us are a couple of terms bandied about which come to mind when this kind of permeation is talked about. It is already being done as is illustrated with twitter accounts given to bridges etc (!/imlondonbridge) , which is quite interesting.

What if these objects / devices could not only sense and perceive objects in the physical domain, but also your activity in the digital.

Could they then be perceived as digital spirits of objects ? …

This was an interesting question which popped into my head, and reminded me of the notion of Yakshas/Ganhdarvas in Indian mythology (my grandma used to tell me tales about them when I was quite little) , or the Kami in Japanese myth , who were benevolent and sensitive entities said to reside in the arts (music , literature) , elements(sun , wind , rain , certain fires) , rocks , wells etc.

There was a certain reverence attached to them , not in terms of worship , but in terms if a give and take between people and these entities which needed to be maintained in order to keep a balance. This balance was crucial in maintaining order and good fortune .

These aspects of benevolence, sensitivity and balance are something I want to bring to the table in terms of the experiments to be conducted


Crafting the first experiment:

The very first setup is of the ‘Poet’ , a fish feeding system/ device which exists and operates in both the physical and digital space, speaking to the person who owns it and also feeding off his social network , which it needs to survive and continue feeding the fish in its care.

More about this setup in the next post …

CIID, Design playground, Thoughts

Project update 3 : Of Empathy, Symbiosis, Expression and multiple Contexts …

Looking back at the original Venn Diagram as a starting point I tried to list out what kind of data sources and types would ‘Radiate’ out from the 3 circles.

In the course of this exercise I tried to expand the initial diagram and words into possible spheres of exploration.

I then tried to explore relationships between the 3 circles.
What kind of relationships could be worthy of exploration in this context?In the meantime I came across Matheiu Lehanneur’s work on empathetic Devices which was rather interesting. He has worked on 4 sensory devices which sense the environment around a human counterpart and react accordingly.

Like ‘dB’which emits white noise and follows a person around, engulfing him in calming white noise whenever it encounters high decibel noises.

He talks about the design of environments as responsive as a mother’s womb to a baby’s needs as it matures.

And along came about the concepts of Symbiotism and Mutualism. Nature abounds with examples of symbiotic relationships where 2 or more entities live in close proximity and live off each other in a mutually beneficial manner (Lichen – a relationship between algae / fungi being an example , Lacto Baccilus bacteria in the Human gut is another example )

lichen: algae aids photosynthesis , and the fungus protects

Could relationships between Natural-Human-Technological systems be symbiotic and what would that mean to the person living in the middle ?
Are there examples of the same? …..This was something I tried to look at further and came across work from the RCA (royal college of art ) and Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby , where they developed robots that are programmed to behave and react with Human and pet-like traits (feeding, affection etc).
For example ‘Needy One’ is programmed to behave like a pet , relying on its user to provide for its needs.

Could the advent of symbiotic long term relationships lead to adaptation and evolution of technology in way so as to make them stay relevant for longer?
Could symbiosis lead to a better understanding of the electronic climate and objects around us.

A couple of years ago I came across this video and article about Shinya Kimura , the Bike designer , who speaks about his motivation and feelings which he puts into his designs.

A bike is an object which I think requires a certain level of a symbiotic relationship.
In the course of maintenance of a motorbike or a bike , there is a human connection with the addition of information. The wearing of gears, clutch pads corresponds to human action as it leaves an indelible imprint , a memory so to speak that you can relate to on each ride.

In the course of asking a few friends about objects which have left a longing impression on them or have lingered in their lives, I came across this interesting aspect of ‘memory traces’.
The wear and tear on a leather briefcase or a wallet , spoke volumes back to the person using them. It had its own story. I got similar  stories of palm prints on the body of an electric guitar , guns which needed to be taken care off before going on a hunt , bicycles which needed do to be oiled etc.
A person almost empathizes with the machine , the tool or piece of technology when it speaks back to them through the memory traces.

Very rarely does this sense of belonging translate onto electronic objects or digital objects to be more precise. Consumer electronics of today do not seem to give the same sense of belonging that analogue devices used to provide.

Why electronic objects?

‘E-waste’, is something which caught my eye. As defined by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) ,”Electronic waste” may be defined as discarded computers, office electronic equipment, entertainment device electronics, mobile phones, television sets and refrigerators. This definition includes used electronics which are destined for reuse, resale, salvage, recycling, or disposal.
I spent the last few days reading about what consumerism is in the digital age and the ill effects of fast appearing – programed obsolescence in objects on the environment and certain societies. Societal damage is both in terms of technological pressures faced on one hand and in the other the waste /  garbage and the disposal of the same which is turning out to be a big issue.

There are technical solutions with respect to material sciences , legislations and recycling. In my exploration I thought about whether symbiotic relationships could also be an answer to the riddle. Introducing a new relationship with respect to the way we perceive objects around us, might lead to interesting consequences.

This again prompted me to think about the relationships between the 3 categories in the Venn diagram and I came to this opinion that we need a new paradigm , where we could become technopathic towards electronic devices/objects.

We need to find common grounds to talk about relationships with respect to natural and technological environments.
In order to examine whether I could explore these relationships with experiments , contexts had to chosen.

An initial thought about contexts , was put forward in the below sketch.

Here , the focus would extend from the Human being, and the data which could be collected from his daily life, to his social circle, which further extends into the environmental circle, which includes his social circle in cyberspace, electromagnetic and natural climatic conditions and the relationship with the flora and fauna around him.

The next big challenge was to choose the actors in the experiments and the roles they would play in the various plots which were forming in my mind.
An initial sketch is as below , but more will be talked about in the next post.

CIID, Design playground, Inspiration

Project update 2 .. Inspiration : Technological evolution , the Immaterial and our lives as cyborgs…

Some inspiration while approaching the thought about ‘Living in the Middle’ …

“What does technology want? “

Kevin Kelly speaks about technological evolution , by asking the question ‘What does technology want’
He posits that technology is moving towards or evolving towards…
He does this by cleverly comparing technological development to biological evolutionary trees and talks about the ‘Technium’ being the 7th kingdom of life. Quite interesting !

More of his ideas at :

I should ask myself too , “what does technology want” , especially with respect to living in the middle with the human and the natural environment.

“We are all Cyborgs now “

A really interesting talk by ‘cyborg anthropologist’ and ‘digital philosopher’ Amber Case , where she states that we live in worlds where we are all cyborgs.
We live in multiple planes in cyberspace, with multiple selves in multiple places in multiple times she says. We have externalized our brain processes and our bodily selves to second selves which require constant grooming and maintenance too.
She links it to the original definition of a cyborg : an organism to which exogenous components have been added for the purpose of adapting to new environments. There are some interesting terms she uses like ‘Techno-social wormholes’ which are warping time and space w.r.t communication.
She ends her talk with a thought that our multiple lives give us little time to self reflect and internalize thoughts and that is not something we should lose out on.

She brought out to fore some of the thoughts I had with regard to sociality and whether we could actually recognize our digital selves in the real world and vice versa.

“Designing with the IMMATERIALS”

Image from BERG blog

4 new materials to work with… a designers dream. That was my first reaction to the ‘Immaterials’ talk by BERG’s Matt Jones and Jack Schulze.

Gives me a few new thought tools through which I can approach my project. It almost gives me contexts to base the experiments I want work on with regard to ‘Living in the Middle’

‘Song of the spindle’

A cool Vimeo video which spoke a lot to me about finding ‘common ground’ , while approaching the actors in the 3 spheres I am thinking about.

CIID, Design playground, Thoughts

Project update 1 : Of perception , superpowers and ‘Living in the middle’

Its been a month and a half since my initial thoughts about my final project. I have been immersing myself in reading a lot of science fiction / fantasy / graphic novels , and generally having ball in this inspiration phase.

I have been particularly driven by aspects of Technopathy and Ecological Empathy as abilities that could be looked into further.
Technopathy (techno : systematic treatment of an art, craft, or technique & pathos :  suffering, feeling, emotion) , would mean a sense of deep empathy and connection certain fictional characters have with the technological environment around them.

Example : Something that Iron Man (not Tony Stark) uses in particular scenarios …

Ecological empathy  was another ability where the characters were empathic and could control the natural / living environment around them. Example : Swamp thing , Ents

So what would human beings sense and percieve if they could be empathetic to tech and natural environments alike ?

At about the same time Matt Jones from Berg came into CIID and gave us this great talk where he mentioned certain concepts of ‘Living in the middle’ (as originally stated by Richard Dawkins in a TED conference) and designing for a ‘ Robot readable world ‘ where he makes a case for systems with Seeing algorithms, mentioning:
“What if, instead of designing computers and robots that relate to what we can see, we meet them half-way – covering our environment with markers, codes and RFIDs, making a robot-readable world”

He also mentioned a talk by Richard Dawkins which I had seen a while ago , about the Queer Universe we live in , and the fact that we as humans live in this middle world.

A brief transcript from his talk goes like this:

“What we see of the real world is not the unvarnished world but a model of the world, regulated and adjusted by sense data, but constructed so it’s useful for dealing with the real world.

The nature of the model depends on the kind of animal we are. A flying animal needs a different kind of model from a walking, climbing or swimming animal. A monkey’s brain must have software capable of simulating a three-dimensional world of branches and trunks. A mole’s software for constructing models of its world will be customized for underground use. A water strider’s brain doesn’t need 3D software at all, since it lives on the surface of the pond in an Edwin Abbott flatland.”

Middle World — the range of sizes and speeds which we have evolved to feel intuitively comfortable with –is a bit like the narrow range of the electromagnetic spectrum that we see as light of various colours. We’re blind to all frequencies outside that, unless we use instruments to help us. Middle World is the narrow range of reality which we judge to be normal, as opposed to the queerness of the very small, the very large and the very fast.”

‘Living in the middle’ ,is a thought and a sentence that fascinates me because its linked to the aspects of technopathy and ecological empathy which are on my mind.

So if you visualize the aspects discussed in the talk, through a Venn diagram , ‘The robot readable world’ could be mapped with human beings like so:

Here HUMAN refers to our perceived world and the overlap in the Venn diagram refers to the middle world.

and Richard Dawkins notion of the human beings living in the middle world could be mapped as so :

So essentially being human we are in this space…

What if we close this linked system and the mapping looked like this :

Could this also make sense …. What would it be like to live and perceive in the middle world of the technological and natural environments around us…How would our technological environment co-exist with the natural , and develop an understanding of the same…How can I make sense of the multiple data sources …

I find this immensely interesting as a thought process and wish to investigate it further during my project research…

CIID, Design playground, Thoughts

Final project time…. ‘Superabilities of perception’

This is final project time in CIID and things are just about to start getting heated up.

I started thinking about this notion of super-abilities , especially that of enhanced sense and perception.
This was inspired to a lifelong interest in myth, science fiction and fantasy, which I wanted tap into as inspiration for my project.

If you try to analyze these stories, for example take the X-men Dark phoenix saga , we can see how the writer uses the story to push us to think, he uses the characters to push the story and each other, and finally uses the powers they possess to actually drive the character’s development.
In going through this process the reader ,in a well written tale, goes through these stages of :
Provocation … where an idea / a plot / or the sheer power of the imagery engages your interest and thought
Imagination … where mental images are formed irrespective of the images in the story , which enables you to fill in gaps
Transposition … you shift from being a reader to a participant in the story , actively engaging in the events as if you are part of the book. A stage of immersion if I might say that
Shift of perception … where your engagement changes your way of thinking and how you perceive the world around the book / comic/ graphic novel. This I think is what the very good writers accomplish.

I began asking myself What do super powers/abilities mean today ? and What might it mean to people if they could possess these fictional powers (which I could possibly deliver using some present day technology)?
I wanted to investigate whether enhanced senses could change perception eventually leading to change in behavior.

In the meantime during my talks with Matt Cottam (Tellart) and Mac (a fellow student at CIID), I realized that in the present internet age and the era of connectedness we live in , access to Data is a tremendous superpower. The ability to engage in long distance communication , arrange flash mobs, access raw data from the UN etc is changing our perception of the world.
So I started thinking about how this access to Data and linking it to the senses would work in a design process.
Could it be possible to enable a person to touch an object and find out about its past present and future states (an ability called PSYCHOMETRY , possessed by Abe Sapien in the BPRD tales)
Could shopping in supermarkets be a more sensory experience by perhaps enabling you to hear products rather than scanning through them visually (abilities matching those of COMPENSATION and MAGNIFICATION as seen with the Daredevil or Superman)
Could you engage in collaborative performances or communication with plants and trees around you (ECOLOGICAL EMPATHY as seen with the Swamp Thing)?

These are the (somewhat crazy) questions and thoughts I was working with initially…