What have you made?
The physical remote communication was my research theme during my last year in Media Design. After several testings, my findings have led me to create a telepresence device. Di-Dah-Dit takes shape of two distant objects connected. Two players are virtually facing each other, together controlling the progress of a steel marble balanced on two rails, by varying their spacing at each end. Each player’s physical influence is reproducted remotely by means of motors.
Using identical objects tends to bring these two remote persons closer. Reproducting the actions of each other on the device is enough to create the sensation of sharing the same object.
Magic take place of technology as soon as we hold the handles. By reproducing the force feedback, Di-Dah-Dit take the remote persone back.
Through play, these two previously unknown individuals share a collaborative moment where the single information known of the other is the tension applied to the rails. The conception of a bright code, similar to the Morse code, was set up to go beyond simple physical exchange: Both players can communicate visually through an LEDs interface.
Di-Dah-Dit is also a technical and aesthetic exploration in the age of quick prototyping and «Internet of things». Its final appareance hides an amazing inner complexity.
What gave you the initial inspiration?
For my master thesis, I focused on the arrival of touch screens, especially the consequences of this new intermediary for the process of designing a GUI.
I tried to prove that we could use our usual tangible interactions to create new tactile interactions. For that, I started my research by a study of the history of interfaces. This link allows us to communicate with the machine, to send a mail to someone for example.. With the touchscreen device, this message could be full of informations; tangible informations.. Imagine if the recipient on my mail could feel my actions instead of only seeing it through a cluster of colored pixels?
What is the original idea behind this project?
While we used to have lots of exchanges of informations visually and verbally with a distant person, the tangible dimension of our interlocutor is still not perceived. How to feel physically a remote person? How to create a sensitive, natural and spontaneous exchange between two distant individuals?
For that reason, I naturally focused on the creation of a simple and collaborative game. The playful mechanisms, as elementary as they are, create a relationship of complicity, competition or support between the various players. However, Di-Dah-Dit have the advantage to be a tool of sensory communication, as a virtual bridge between two distant spaces. The “leitmotiv” was to stay on the sensations, the touch and the emotion.
I would like to point out, that this project is not a technical challenge, but more a reflection by design on a distant communication.
How does it work?
The main challenge of this project is to transmit faithfully and immediately a tangible action. This first prototype focuses on this dimension. We are currently not considering detecting the position of the ball : the end of the game is based on the honesty of the players : like the good old times
Currently the two objects are connected by a wire more than ten meters long to allow a good simulation of a distant game. The communication of behaviour between player A and player B has been made possible thanks to the connection of an Arduino Leonardo in each object.
The distance between the rails on the side A is recorded by a linear potentiometer; this data is ultimately sent instantaneously to the B side servo motor. A cam on the latter converts the rotary motion to reproduce exactly spacing and forces produced by the player A.
The programming of the bright area is pre-recorded, similar for both two sides. The difficulty - the light speed movement - increases gradually during the game.
How long did it take to make it real?
The device was created during the time I was preparing my Master Degree in the University of Arts of Geneva, the HEAD — Genève. I started in February, until the very last second before my oral examination, at the end of June 2014.
Physical telepresence appears to be an idle technological field in daily use. Aware of the big challenge it was, I decided to publish my progress. So, you can find my thought process, my several prototypes, and the manufacturing steps of Di-Dah-Dit on this blog.