Music News

Pocket operator sync app

It’s been a while since I posted anything non-work-related… Keeping me sane during these Unprecedented Times has been a couple of Teenage Engineering’s pocket operators. They’re a good balance of fun and productivity (lots of the former; less of the latter), although I’ve been looking for a way to extend their capability without having to buy the complete (and expensive) set of these things.

Inspired by this Processing sketch by u/neel_on_reddit, I’ve made a similar app in Max that generates a sync ‘click’ to control the tempo of a connected pocket operator. If an audio input of a pocket operator is connected to the output of your computer (and sync mode is set to SY4), the incoming click will start, stop and change tempo. As another small extension, this app will also pass an audio file to the connected pocket operator, which will be played through the onboard speaker.

The pocket operator sync app (v001), built in Max.

As far as I can tell, it’s not possible to compile a standalone app from Max for multiple platforms. So at this stage, the app will only work on macOS. But it should be a simple case of compiling on Windows from Max for it to also work there. So I’ve made the Max patcher available here as well. Any feedback is welcome…

News Social robots

News article on our robot pet future

This week I spoke to Ben Knight at the UNSW Newsroom, to share my thoughts on whether we might be able to expect robotic pets to become more widespread in the near future. This discussion seems particularly pertinent now, given that for many of us, we are not able to experience the social interactions and relationships that we were pre-Covid. The question is, could a robotic pet fulfil some of these relationships in the meantime?

Dr Belinda Dunstan was also quoted in the piece, and went on to speak further with John Stanley about the topic on 2GB radio. Belinda and I did our PhDs alongside one another in the Creative Robotics Lab, where Belinda focused on social robot morphologies before moving to the School of Built Environment.

News Teaching

Nature Conservation Council partnership with Master of Design course

In response to student feedback in the Master of Design program, I have been looking for ways to increase industry engagement and experience in the Interaction Design specialisation. Many Masters students are studying with one eye on employment, and so it’s particularly important to make sure the skills and knowledge they are developing is going to be relevant for current industry practice.

Similar to the partnership I have developed with Studio Messa for Integrated Project in the Bachelor of Design program, I have established a partnership with the Nature Conservation Council (NCC) for students in the final Interaction Design specialisation course for Masters students: Tangible Interfaces and Interactive Displays.

We were fortunate enough to have NCC Chief Executive, Chris Gambian and Organising Director, Jacqui Mumford deliver a real world brief for the class: to propose an interactive experience for visitors to the NCC 65th anniversary dinner to be held later in 2020. Students were tasked with not only pitching an experience that would be interesting and engaging for the attendees of the event, but also communicated and celebrated some of the key events in the history of the NCC.

Each work also had to reference the central themes of NCC campaigns: nature, climate and people power. The scope and subsequent feedback provided by Chris and Jacqui of the NCC was fantastic in giving students a taste of working for a real client, with real constraints. Students worked in interdisciplinary teams to develop lighting sculptures, table-top tangible interfaces, interactive lighting projections and educational games.

News Teaching

Studio Messa partnership in Integrated Project course

For the second time this year, I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work with Studio Messa to develop a project brief for Bachelor of Design students in the Integrated Project course. Previously run in the Summer Term 2-week intensive format, students in Term 2 approached this interdisciplinary brief over 11 weeks.

As an experiential design agency, Studio Messa is a great fit for Design students who have developed individual praxis and specialisation over the past 2 years or so in their degrees. The Integrated Project course is often the first chance they have to come together in teams, where a range of skills and interests is leveraged to create ambitious and interdisciplinary work.

Studio Messa Director, Peter Pengly and Creative Director, Kate Blank have been truly generous with their time and offered students some amazing insights into the realities of the industry. Peter and Kate gave students the following brief, with the timely challenge of also responding to Covid-19 limitations:

Establish a social or cultural issue that you would like to explore and create an immersive experience to convey key messages on that issue to at least 50 people. The experience should be brought to life through the lens of Studio Messa’s ‘A Curious Mind’ ethos, and enliven curiosity and discovery on your chosen theme with those who interact with it.

Studio Messa design brief ‘thematic’.

Students certainly ran wild with this brief. We saw educational installations to engage homeless populations with local communities; pop-up spaces to communicate the realities of coffee sustainability and farmer exploitation; guerrilla artworks to bring awareness to the impact of climate change; and large-scale celebrations of the history of Vietnamese diaspora in Australia.

Ageing Autism News

Autism ASSIST seed funding awarded

The Autism ASSIST Project (Aiding and SuStaining Independence through Smart-home Technology) has been awarded $49,292 in funding as a result of the UNSW Ageing Futures 2020 seed funding grant program. This project will look at existing smart technology use by autistic adults living independently and through a co-design process, develop and evaluate a smart platform for increasing independence in daily life.

The project is led by Dr Lidan Zheng (Science), with Dr Jane Hwang (Medicine) and Dr Scott Brown (Art & Design).

Conferences News

TEI 2020 conference

The Fourteenth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction (TEI 2020) is being held in Sydney, hosted by UTS. The theme for the conference this year is Future Bodies, Future Technologies, and will explore how we define bodies and how that leads us to design for them.

I have a double role at TEI 2020: I am Local Chair and Registration Chair, which is going to keep me very busy, but learning plenty about conference organisation. Fortunately, we have a great team and plenty of excellent research and practice to look forward to.

Design methods News

LEGO Serious Play certification

I was recently fortunate enough to be invited by the UNSW Founders to participate in LEGO Serious Play (LSP) certification training. I’m now a certified LEGO Serious Play facilitator! The workshop was coached by the excellent Michael Fearne, who introduced us to the history and theoretical underpinnings of the method, as well as giving us the opportunity to plan and ‘play out’ our own LSP sessions.

A certification document for LEGO Serious Play facilitation.
LSP certification from Pivotal Play.

It was interesting to see the parallels in the LSP method and my own approach to teaching and research, which use constructionist and play-based principles to engage students or study participants. This has sparked many new ideas for running design workshops in the future, and given me a great excuse to start buying LEGO for myself…

Disability News Social robots

Disability Innovation Institute news story

The new Disability Innovation Institute at UNSW (DIIU) has posted an article about my work with Kaspar and the importance of creative practice in disability research.

The DIIU is an exciting initiative by UNSW, which promises to embed consideration of disability in research across the institution. Importantly, the DIIU brings an interdisciplinary approach to research and industry partnerships. This is an exciting opportunity to bring together the work of researchers at UNSW Art & Design with the sciences and humanities.

Autism News Social robots

Kaspar project in the news

We’ve been fortunate enough to be featured in the media for our pilot study with the Kaspar social robot over the past couple of months. ABC News ran a story with us on their TV bulletin and news radio.

This project is in collaboration with Dr David Silvera from the CSIRO, where have recently finished our first exploratory study with Kaspar and 3 autistic boys under the age of 5. The first stage was led by myself at the Creative Robotics Lab and the final 2 studies were carried out between a psychologist and children in a clinical therapy space. In addition to engaging the specialist knowledge of a therapist to lead the study, this allowed us to conduct the research in an environment that was familiar to each child and therefore less overwhelming or overstimulating. In these studies, Kaspar was used as a ‘peer’ in social story activities.

Social stories were developed as a targeted approach for each child in consultation with their parents. We began the process by developing activities relevant to each child, to introduce social and communication skills in a context specific to the child. During the subsequent clinical sessions, Kaspar would be used as a tool for facilitating these stories. In therapy where a peer (such as another child) might be used to help an autistic child learn social interaction skills, we believe Kaspar could be a useful scaffolding tool to prepare some children for this kind of interaction. Where the interaction of a human can be ambiguous and complex, the responses of Kaspar are clear and repeatable.

With the positive response we received from the children and their parents, we hope to expand the research through collaboration with autism services and practitioners.

Conferences News

SIGGRAPH Asia 2014

Having just returned from participating in my first international conference yesterday, I thought I would post a few thoughts on SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 and my short trip to Shenzhen, China

My paper was accepted as part of the workshop titled, Designing Tools For Crafting Interactive Artifacts, and headed by Kening Zhu from the City University of Hong Kong. In my paper, I speak about the research I am doing and how Design can be used to structure an observational study, looking at issues of communication and agency in children with autism.

Such is the long lead-in time of conference submissions, by the time I presented my work at SIGGRAPH Asia, I was a lot further along in my research than my paper would indicate. I discussed the implications of my design decisions on the results of the first human study (more on this shortly) and how the experience of the first study might inform the next iteration.

Delivering my presentation at the SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 workshop.

I had some great feedback on both my paper and presentation, and the experience of participating in such a prestigious conference was hugely motivating. To have genuine interest from respected career academics and be able to engage with them in an open and even platform gave me confidence that I’m heading in the right direction with my research. It’s something that most research candidates struggle with on occasion and an experience I wish I’d had earlier in my candidature.

All presentations as part of the workshop sparked interesting discussion. Personally, I found the keynote of Thecla Schiphorst (Simon Fraser University) inspiring; her amazing body of work and sensitivity to aesthetics in HCI was incredible. Also, the work of Justyna Ausareny was fantastic; her Dorkbot-style approach and enthusiasm for electronics and sharing was infectious. Despite the long history of computer science being dominated by men, many women were here kicking goals in the space where HCI and Art/Design collide.

Also inspiring was the Emerging Technologies (ET) area as part of the main SIGGRAPH Asia exhibition. My expectation of ET was that there would technologies ready for market and presented by large corporations (as is the case with most of the exhibition, where you can see plenty of 3D software packages on show). Instead, most of the work was speculative or at a prototype stage and being shown by researchers from international Universities. After seeing some of the work there, I would feel comfortable in also presenting my own prototypes in this space.

There were a couple of standout ideas for me in ET. The first was a haptic feedback device for the sight impaired, by researchers from several Japanese institutes. Using an off-the-shelf DIY approach, the technology itself was very simple, but the feedback experience was mapped incredibly well; using a proximity sensor, a motorised arm would push against the users finger when within a certain range of an object.

Haptic feedback for the sight impaired; stepper motor arm ‘pushes back’ against finger, based on proximity sensor data.

Also interesting for its relevance to my own work was the A-Blocks exhibit. Embedded with wireless sensors, these toy blocks for children were designed to measure the quality of play. Most compelling was their attempt to track the blocks’ relationship to one another (stacking, etc), which is something that is quite difficult without the use of camera tracking or similar, and the reason that I steered away from internal sensors in my own work.

Overall, the scale of SIGGRAPH Asia was much smaller than I expected. This is the younger, smaller cousin of SIGGRAPH in the United States (generally attended by 3D behemoths, like Pixar and other animated movie companies), but despite this knowledge, I found the size and content of the general exhibition underwhelming. The lineage of SIGGRAPH is computer graphics (particularly 3D), with Interactivity and other HCI work being a more recent addition, but the exhibition was focused almost entirely on 3D software, with little to keep me there beyond an hour or so.

A view of housing in Shenzhen from my hotel room.
Looking toward the Civic Centre, pre-notherly breeze.
Looking toward the Civic Centre, post-notherly breeze.

SIGGRAPH Asia was certainly worth the long flight, if only to reaffirm my focus in my own research. I’ve got the bug now, and will be looking to get to at least one more international conference before my studies finish in just over 12 months – it’s something that I would recommend any new researcher to experience as soon as possible.