Category Archives: Interactive Devices

ume | documentation

Prototype documentation for our semester project, ume.

ume are interactive paired devices meant to subtly connect friends, lovers and family in different locations. It was made using Arduinos, LED bulbs, PIR sensors and ultrasonic distance sensors.

Each ume serves as an avatar of the other user. The ume in location A will correspond to the user in location B and vice versa. It aims to subtly capture the presence of each user and provide company and comfort without bombarding the user with too much information. In our era of social media and instant communication, ume aims to take a step back in our how we experience one another’s presence and filter out the buzz.

The ume emulates a flame. When users are closer to the sensor, the flame will burn stronger. When further away, the flame will flicker more and become dimmer. The umes will turn into a warm flame and start rocking gently when it detects motion in the room (e.g. if the user paces around or types on their keyboard). Conversely, when no motion is detected (e.g. user falls asleep or has left) the ume will turn into a cool blue flame and stay still. This alludes to the partner user what their partner is doing at the moment.



Changes since the last update

  • We attempted to use multilooping and protothreads to execute both the distance sensing and rocking motion at the same time as the latter was slowing down each loop. However, each thread was still waiting for the other and the time saved was marginal. So instead we programmed the distance sensor to take a reading at smaller increments of the motor motion.
  • We placed the bread board, motor and arduinos into each hamster ball and used long wires to simulate 2 different locations. We added 2 small plates at the side of the PIR sensor to limit its range when detecting motion. In terms of aesthetics, we had to cover up the arduinos, wires etc in the hamster ball as they were rather distracting. So we decided to wrap the ume up in lace to make it more intimate and homely as the ume is meant to be used in a private or home setting. This also helped to disperse the light and create a softer effect. However, this added friction to the base and reduced the rocking motion.
  • We also added a fade in and fade out effect between the 2 states. This allowed the lights to transition more naturally and we think it helped describe a person’s presence more organically.

General feedback from users

  • Users often expected that the sensors would affect the ume on the same side. They were also unsure whether they could hold them or move them around.
  • Users also remarked that they were cute and liked the spherical lace body.

Possible improvements

  • The ume could reflect more gestures and states of the users other than motion and proximity to enrich the telepresence experience. The challenge is balancing between creating a good organic communication, without sending over too much explicit information and complicating the interaction.
  • Instead of wrapping the hamster balls in lace, for a 2.0 version we would want to either do a decal or spray on a porous lace pattern which would allow light to pass through yet cover up the technical bits.
  • Another improvement would be to make it wireless so the interaction would be more tactile and physical. Users could hold onto the ume should they wish to or leave it aside to rock gently.20161118_152301

Part 1 of documentation (interaction / concept):

Part 2 of documentation (technical):

A project by Tania and Yi Xian.

Tealight | prototype documentation

Ever make a hot cuppa tea to accompany a night of work, get too engrossed with the task at hand, only to later come back to lukewarm soggy tea?

Tealight is an interactive device prototype made using an Arduino, temperature sensor and adafruit LED strip as feedback. It measures the cup’s external temperature and gives real time visual feedback of how hot the drink is. The speed of the lights also mimics the behaviour of molecules at different levels of heat (i.e. high heat = high molecular speed).

When the tea is at its hottest, the LED lights will shine at maximum brightness and redness, and circulate around the cup at a high speed. As the drink cools down, the lights will slow down and shine less intensely. Past a specified temperature (whatever the user considers too cold for satisfactory consumption), the lights will change from dim red to dim blue, alerting the viewer that more hot water should be added to heat up the tea. The blue light intensifies and moves even slower as the drink gets colder.

Tealight video docmentation:

dotw5: Sensible Data

Martin Hertig’s Sensible Data is an art installation made out of 3 interactive devices. It invites participants to make a physical passport through 3 distinct steps. The devices are modified variants of Piccolo CNC (an open source machine which uses arduino) and a Raspberry Pi coordinates all 3 machines to create a seamless process.


First, the participant takes a selfie portrait using the iPad. The first device will start making a line drawing passport photo of the participant.


Next, the participant is tasked to send an email to the a given address. This analyses and judges the selfie portrait they previously took using an algorithm. It returns data and triggers the second device to stamp in specific details on their passport such as beauty percentage, age, gender and mood. This information is stored in a database. The machines are very well made; not as efficient as a printer but the mechanical action is visible and adds visual interest.


Lastly, the participant presses a nondescript button which is actually a fingerprint scanner. This validates their passport, and the third device stamps a seal onto it. The physical passport is thus completed. An email with all the data of a matching person in the database is sent to the user. This begs a question so relevant in our modern age of information and technology: how much do we value confidentiality and the privacy of our personal data?



While the circumstances and conditions are intentionally absurd (it sends participants the data of another user whose portrait drawing has the same number of lines), Sensible Data brings up important issues that we have to consider, such as the tradeoffs of technology and immediacy, placing trusts in systems, measuring human qualities using computerised systems and assigning numbers to these qualities etc.

The devices come together pretty well and have a key role in the installation. Each device has a simple core concept and task it performs. I feel that asking the viewer to go through multiple steps and perform different actions is often less effective as the drawn-out experience requires sustained attention from the participant. It often makes for a choppy and cumbersome art experience. However, Hertig’s work doesn’t strike me as tedious or overly-complicated. It is successful perhaps because the end goal is clearly made known to the user from the start: simply make a passport. Each step also provides instant gratification and each action has an immediate, visible outcome. This sustains user attention and increases the continuity of the work.

Sensible Data in action:

Sensible Data

More details regarding the technical process can be found here:

Sensible Data Process

Martin Hertig:

ume | project proposal

Updated Monday, 10 Oct 2016*


Context / Rationale

In this modern era, we constantly receive a barrage of information from social media, instant messaging and telecommunication. Ironically, despite having more means of communication and being perpetually ‘online’, we are getting more detached and disconnected from one another. We’re bombarded with information and always aware of what our peers are doing, eating, watching, that the simply being present becomes special. We are trying to create a pure connection which captures the act of ‘just being there’, so people can enjoy the simple and comforting presence of a loved one. In this small subtle way, ume seeks to bridge the psychological and geographical distance between two individuals.

 is an interactive, orb-shaped paired device which seeks to close the physical distance between two kindred souls. It relies on motion and distance sensors as its effector, and rolls around its axis, while giving out a flickering light that emulates flame.

Each ume will be physically separated from the other, and the output effect of each ume will appear on the other opposite pair.


In its default mode, ume glows a dim blue light. The light flickers like a dying flame. When a user comes within the proximity of the PIR sensor, eg. a room, ume will sense the motion in the room and rock gently on its axis, while a singular LED light will switch on, to show that ume is relaying a message/output to the twined ume device. ume will also change its lighting – from dim blue to warm orange.

When the user walks within the line of sight of ume, sensed by the distance sensor, the twined ume then glows brighter, and the closer the distance between ume and the user, the brighter ume glows, and the less it flickers.

However, when the user walks out, and both users are not detected by the motion sensors, ume reverts back to its default dim blue light, and stays stationary.



We wanted to reduce the human form to a simple single unit / single cell representation. Aesthetically, we feel that the circle is the simplest shape, without any external influences (some artists also believe that the point/dot is the simplest form as extending or multiplying a point can create lines, shapes and forms). It’s clean interface also ties in with its sole function – to simply hint at the presence of the other.

It is a metaphor to a pair of eyes – eyes which look, and tells us the knowledge of what is present in our surroundings. Likewise, ume acts as a pair of eyes, and gives us a sense of security in sensing the presence of the other user. It can only function as a part of a pairing.

ume is both an art and design object. It is a planned system for the purpose of resolving a problem – the lack of a deeper communication level. It has been mechanically made, for a particular aim. However, ume does this in a ‘softer’ way, by invoking deeper emotions through a mechanical system. Its simplicity seeks not to superimpose technology over the human feelings, but rather tries to bring it out.

Some scenarios

a) Two friends at home: feel friend’s presence while they do work
b) Two Lovers at home: knowing your partner’s comforting presence on a daily basis
c) Mother and Child at home: bridges the geographical distance and feeling at ease that their family member is safe


Inspiration sources
Initially, we were both interested in the notion of communicating with another, but on a more emotional level. Recalling our previous experiences of having a skype call with our friends, but neither talking, and instead continuing our own activities. Instead of serving its initial function of communication through speech, the call served to give us assurance of another’s presence. Hence, we decided to create a device which would recreate another’s presence, and bring the other comfort through knowing that their partner is present.

Pillow talk ( on a similar premise through sensing the presence of your loved one digitally. We wanted to create an interactive device that is simple, and similarly clear and straightforward in intention.

Critique and comparison

  • Similarity: ‘subtle’ output, without much variations in output. Both are fixed/workable only in a specific context.
  • Difference: ume has greater specificity, and larger range of communication, while trying to maintain the simplicity of Pillow Talk. Instead of mimicking human characteristics (i.e. heartbeat), ume seeks to represent a person’s presence.


Technologies we will be using include:

  • Pyroelectric InfraRed (PIR) motion sensor
  • Distance sensor
  • Servo motor
  • Assorted LED lights

Issues / difficulties we may encounter

  • Communicating between 2 umes over wireless network
  • Range and accuracy of the PIR sensor



Presentation of work on Nov 18th?
Basic design + all sensors/motors/lights working as intended. Two umes to communicate with the other perfectly.

Documentation of work?

  • Presentation: real-life demonstration
    Two users to be seated on opposite ends of the table, and each user will slowly walk towards ume at two different timings. The opposing ume will thus react accordingly. Each user will be blocked from seeing the other through a high cardboard wall.
  • Video Documentation:
    The interaction and influence ume has on the mood of each person will be filmed, as ume’s priority is to bridge connections between people, and subsequently would be reflected on their mood.

A semester project proposal by Tania and Yi Xian.


dotw4: Conversacube

First date? Meeting friends of friends? Family gatherings with people you aren’t quite sure how you’re related to? Lauren McCarthy’s Conversacube is an interactive device which aims to eliminate conversational awkwardness by guiding and prompting users on what to say in order to effortlessly navigate such situations.

The Conversacube is placed in the centre, with one side facing each user. Each face of the cube has a small screen to display prompts and a microphone to monitor audio levels and speech. Users are guided individually on how to respond in order to achieve smooth and attentive conversation. It also comes in different sizes for pairs or groups.



This gadget is both a conversation aid and an interactive device which generates physical and social interaction among users. At first glance, Conversacube may seem like an unnecessary novelty or a fun party gimmick. However, it brings up important questions about our modern social environment such as our reliance on technology, as well as social norms and behaviour. Will we eventually depend on a device to teach us how to be human? What soft aspects of ‘being human’ will we lose (or have we lost?) as we strive for innovation and efficiency? With redeuced face-to-face communication and increased dependence on virtual communication such as texting and social media, such a reality may not be too far away.

dotw3: Touchy

Touchy is a wearable interactive art device by Eric Siu, a new media artist from Hong Kong. It is a helmet-like device which resembles a camera and covers the user’s eyes, blocking their vision. When the user is touched by another person, the shutters will open and close, allowing the user to see for an instant. When the user maintains contact with someone for 10 seconds, the built-in camera in Touchy will take a snapshot of that instant, capturing the result of this togetherness.

touchy 2

touchy 7

Touchy touches on concepts such as physical communication, memories, social interactions and the ironic ‘un-socialness’ of social media. It also aims to combat problems like social anxiety and isolation (hikikomori), ramifications of our modern world.

touchy 5

The camera metaphor is pronounced as the device resembles a camera in terms of shape, colour and material. It also has shutters and a LCD screen at the back. Its helmet like shape with a pair of shutters at the eye area also has clear affordances of how it should be worn.

What is striking about this device is that the user and the device become one; so much so that they become another device altogether, a ‘human-camera’. The user no longer interacts directly with the device and instead becomes an extension of the machine. The interactivity occurs when this ‘humera’ interacts with other people. This interactive art device can also function as part of social interaction experiments and performance art pieces.

touchy 3

Wearable tech often serves the user and has practical, tangible benefits such as monitoring and providing information. However, Touchy actually impairs the user by limiting their vision in order to seek out ‘softer’ aspects of human interaction.




dotw2: AR Music Kit

AR Music Kit is an interactive audio device created by London-based sound artist/designer Yuri Suzuki. It was developed in partnership with his YS Labs team and Google’s Data Arts Team.

AR Music Kit creates a unique ‘do it yourself’ musical experience which allows users to make music using just an app, print outs and everyday objects. Users print and cut out black and white square markers and stick these onto any objects they wish to create music with. Using a smartphone camera and the free mobile app, users capture themselves interacting with their setup. The camera senses when they ‘play’ a note/chord (by covering a marker with their hands) and the phone produces the corresponding sound. 3 modes are currently available: piano, guitar and music box.

It’s a very democratic and accessible interactive device as users don’t have to physically obtain or purchase it in order to enjoy it. Instead, it makes use of augmented reality sensors, paper print outs and a smartphone which are (relatively) easily available. The experience is also entirely customisable and can appeal to people of varying ages and musical ability.

The app is free and the software is available online on github in order to encourage developers, students or hobbyists to improve and further develop the project.

Aside from the great augmented reality musical experience, I really appreciate the spirit of openness and democracy of this device. It is simple, inclusive and enabling.


Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 2.57.40 AM

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 2.59.05 AM

Other works by Yuri Suzuki:


dotw1: Song Wig

Song Wig is an ingenious and playful piece of wearable tech by Japanese creative lab PARTY. This interactive device offers a new way of sharing music. The user experience has a large social element, as the users interact with the device as well as with one another.

One main user wears the device and shares music with physical proximity. It works similar to wireless headphones and syncs with devices via bluetooth. In terms of interactivity, it has limited user input and feedback. However, the metaphor and the resultant interaction that it generates between people makes up for this. It’s simple yet the affordances are easily identifiable. It also encourages physical interactivity between users.




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