Steven Harrap

Other webs

1. Introduction

'Other-Webs' explores the idea of virtual and physical spaces occupying the same location. 'Other-Webs' provides a voyeuristic experience for the user to view and affect the inhabitance of this other space by manipulating a visually engaging portal. The portal and surrounding set are visually rich in to engage a sense of magic and wonder at the other space. Through the literature of Homo Ludens I have placed 'Other-Webs' in the domain of play and established that the work promotes exploration and curiosity via tangible interface. Finally I will provide a project scheduling framework in which goals and milestones will lead to a successful high-fidelity prototype.

2. 'Other-Webs'

The idea of 'Other-Webs' explores the concept of virtual objects inhabiting real areas of space but having no specific relationship the reality of that space. The idea describes the possibility of looking into these spaces and affecting the virtual inhabitance via physically manipulating tools. The devices, called portals, that view these spaces imply a special significance through the use of dramatic visual design. Through a dynamic use of piping, wiring, electronics and other props the portals imply a fusion between folk law magic and modern technology. Such visual styles have been explored though the "Matrix" and "Aliens" movies.

The virtual space that the portals view contain webs that float with a jelly-fish style movement. Users can impart motion on the webs by grabbing a vertex and physically moving the portal. The vertex will remember the motion and the moving vertex will affect, to a lesser degree, the other vertices of the web. This action will propel the webs through the space. With no outside influence the webs will pick random paths through the space. If two or more webs collide then a connection on a common vertex will occur and their combined motion will determine a new course.

3. Portal Aesthetic

The look-and-feel of the portal is important in creating an atmosphere of the super-natural. The portal implies that though a twisted act of organic technology and magic a link has been generated to a previously unknown space where strange web like creatures exist. The portals combine a rough, well worn look with strapped leather, rusting iron, thick tubing and found objects such as motor bike handles and pieces of car mechanics to create the impression that this special mixture of, previously disparate, objects will create a magical connection to different level of reality.

The set, in which the portals roam, is effectively a cube of approximately four metres square. Rusting iron and wiring is applied to its edges to imply a trapping of the webs so that the portals can view them. This trapping infers that the webs might wander anywhere around our world, completely unknown to the human race. Another approach to the meaning of the set is that the special apparatuses attached to the walls are attracting the webs instead of trapping them.

4. Physical Interface

Each portal can freely move around the set area on four wheels to view the webs from any angle that user desires. The user can tilt the portals on an angle off the horizon of approximately twenty degrees or within a margin of safety to prevent the portals from tipping. A portal has two handles, one at the front and one at the side, to allow the user to push and pull a portal in all directions.

The side handle has a motorbike style leaver and the front handle has a single large button attached to the upper surface. The screen of the portal sits above the main body and is tightly wrapped in strips of leather. It is through the screen that that the user receives a view of the 'other space' based on the position and orientation of the portal.

5. Virtual Aesthetic

The user gains a view of the hidden space by looking at the screen embedded at the top of the portal. The visuals presented by the screen are rough and jagged to imply a tenuous link between the real and this virtual place. The screen is occasionally affected by static as if the connection is weakening and a grainy style of illustration calls on days of ancient personal computer hardware. This ties the physical, ramshackle appearance of the portal with its virtual appearance to enhance the feeling of something beyond the ordinary.

6. Virtual / Physical Interface

The users control over the webs and how the user views the other space occurs through the physical location and orientation of the portal and via the use of the handles attached to each portal.

A cross hair in the middle of the screen allows the user to lock onto a vertex and by squeezing the leaver on the left handle the user can grab that vertex (Diagram 1.1). If the user then moves the portal in any direction the motion of the web will be affected (Diagram 1.2). The web will swim in the direction of the movement with a 'jelly-fish' style of motion (Diagram 1.3). Vibration within the portal will physically feed back to the user that he/she has successfully grabbed a vertex.

The user can make new webs by moving to an empty space and pressing the button on the front leaver (Diagram 2.1). This will create a new vertex and by continuing to press the button at different locations a new web will grow by automatically joining each new vertex to the previous vertex (Diagram 2.2). The user is able to cross-join (or connect to an existing vertex) in a web by locking onto a vertex (squeezing the handle) and pressing and holding the button (Diagram 2.3). Releasing the handle (keeping the button pressed) and locking onto another vertex (Diagram 2.4) will automatically join the two vertices.

If the user maneuvers the portal through a web then the portal handles will vibrate in response to the portal colliding with the vertices of the web.

7. Audible Feedback

Each portal is equipped with stereo sound to indicate and help locate the presence of near-by webs. A web will emit gentle swimming noise when in motion. When a web is grabbed it will emit an unpleasant squealing sound - as an animal would when it is held against its will. A constant background static noise will occur to emphasize the weak link to the other space. Distant webs will only just be audible through the static hiss.

8. How it works

Each portal contains a personal computer and screen with a network link to a server computer for controlling the state of the system. Power is supplied to each portal via a cord hanging from the roof of the set. A card sits at the top of each portal with a special unique pattern that is tracked by a camera located in the roof of the set. The camera supplies location and orientation of each portal to the server computer.

Each portal supplies the status of its physical inputs (handle and button) and its tilt orientation to the server. Based on the inputs from each portal, the current state of the system and the location of each portal the server will generate a new state for the system and broadcasts that state (including location information) back to each portal. Each portal then renders a view (based on its location) to the screen for the user.

9. Context in literature to 'Other-Webs'

'Other-Webs' suggests a situation in which we are constantly permeated by forms of energy to which we are completely unaware. It presents a kind of voyeurism into a previously hidden place and allows us a limited form of effect upon this space. This idea of a revealed space has been previously discussed by Tony Dunne and 'The Pillow' which visualizes bits of electromagnetic information from radio stations, passing taxis or nearby baby alarms as varying shades of colour within a translucent pillow. As with the pillow 'Other-Webs' invites a relationship between human and the computational alien to share a space.

'Other-Webs' is essentially a play inducing system. Users are encouraged to interact with the webs and with each other by virtue of creating new webs or changing the behaviour of existing webs. The method of control is not clear and the system explores our curiosity and our love of diversion and exploration. It addresses an issue raised by Kurt Vonnegut as discussed in Designing for Homo Ludens that technology need not by clear and efficient to solve a problem - being spooky, strange and unusual induces an opportunity for exploration by presenting a problem of duality of the space.

Wejcher describes playing as the pursuit of one's inner narratives in a safe situation, through perceptual projection or, ideally, action. 'Other-Webs' provides an opportunity for people to explore the work without the restrictions of predefined tasks, goals or narrative. The user is able to play with the webs and the user can own the experience rather than feeling that an others predefined experience is being relived.

10. Project evolution

The following sketches describe the evolution of this idea to a state where a very low fidelity prototype can occur.

11. Low Fidelity Prototype

The following low fidelity prototype was constructed from Styrofoam and cardboard as means of testing the basic concept of a portal. The prototype proved that the portal is viable for use as a physical entity by a person.

12. Conclusion

'Other-Webs' has presented a viable idea of exploring virtual and physical spaces that occupy the same location. The portal and surrounding set will engage a sense of magic and wonder by the user at the other space. 'Other-Webs' is relevant to the literature of Homo Ludens by describing 'Other-Webs' in the domain of play and establishing that the work promotes exploration and curiosity via tangible interface. The schedule has presented a plan of attack that clearly states the goals and milestones that result in a successful high-fidelity prototype and the 'Document of Roles, Responsibilities and Agreements' describes the expected behaviour of each member of the group.

13. References

Gaver, W., "Designing for Homo Ludens." . i3 Magazine, No, 12, June 2002. ��[Journal Article, 2002]. Retrieved September 10, 2007, from Equator: