Category Archives: Physical Apps

Hacking in front of an audience – Met Office at the V&A




You know from reading this blog that we have been running and attending collaborative making events, or hacks, for quite some time now. We’ve put someone into space, we’ve been at Unbox Festival in India, we’ve   run open news hacks with Mozilla and we’ve told you all about how much we love making data physical at SXSW.  We’ve hacked with conductive ink, with trousers and under canvas..  All have been amazing, have led to incredible new things and introduced us to amazing new people. But all our events have been behind closed doors.  The public have remained where they are – in public – while we’ve been locked in a room or atrium.  So when Irini Papadimitriou and Michael Saunby wanted to hold a public hack-jam we jumped at the chance.

The hack has been well documented through Michael Saunby at the Met Office  and our new friends at the Centre for Sustainable Fashion

We were hacking with our friends  Justin Marshall and Ollie Hatfield, who worked on the winning design that harvested  museums as  accidental  data sources for climate change. In their work they built an idea that in the V&A there are images on fabrics, objects and in prints that may have flora and fauna that is specific to that climate on them. They posed the question of how this might looked very different if there was a 4C rise in temperature.


Hacking in public is hard

It’s really hard. You are just about to reach the end of debugging a particularly nasty servo motor problem and are just about to test what has taken up the best part of the last hour when “What’s that do?” asks a 7 year. ‘That’ being a 3D printer in the middle of a two hour print job for a completely revolutionary new approach to dress fastenings. The 7 year old is joined by 29 nine of his friends and you have to stop and explain everything about a 3D printer (yes of course you mention That Gun because if you don’t they will).  And just when their parents have  moved them onto the next group and you’re about to crack the final line of the bug… “What does that do” says a bright eyed 9 year old girl with her slightly harassed looking dad…

You have to know your story

You’re going to get asked what you are doing. A lot. You need to work on that story. The public are interested and want to find out more but they don’t want to hear about your 1500 lines of code and the trouble you’re having with stack overflow.  They’re on a fun day out and you’re there to entertain. So think of great things to tell people. Connecting this to popular news stories relating to your tech and ideas worked well for us (the 3D printed gun story is always a winner).

Come prepared with interesting demos.

Bring some working examples. Our amazing hacker friend James Thomas is wearing his mini starlight broach to explain how star data can be modelled on lights.   When he tells people he’s wearing a datafeed from a far off star they stop and listen to what he has to say.



Have someone greeting and steering the public

You really need a front-of-house person. They need to be able to tell the bigger story of the event – what you’re doign and why. They need to be able to do this in less than 15 seconds and know who to take them to in the hack to continue the story. Find out what the person/people who are visiting is interested in and connect them to the amazing hackers in the room.

Hacking in public is accountable

We were hacking for climate change. We had a lot of people talking about climate change. The fantastic thing was that we were sharing the room with the world’s leading scientists. When someone from the public attempted to deny climate change – we were able to point them to the scientists with hard data up their sleeve. Don’t mess with the Met Office – they KNOW their data. But there’s a bigger picture here. It’s a picture of being able to justify what you’re doing. To talk about your idea, take critism and adapt what you’re doing based on the conversations you are having with the people visiting. If you can respond to 15,000 people asking you why and how – and you adapt to what they’re saying – you’re going to have a pretty robust idea that stands up to future development. You’ve done the market research and public impact during the development. I’m not sure that there are many development processes that can say they do that.

So what happens next? We’d like to explore this new way of hacking. Maybe it’s not new – maybe you have done this and want to shout – ‘hey, we did that first’ – or ‘we did that before you were born’… please do, we would love to hear your stories. Our feeling is that this is something really quite new and that it could change how hack-events are run in the future. So…. have your flu shot, get trained in public liaisons,  get a safety cage for your soldering iron and be prepared to find, play, make and talk. Maybe we’ll see you in the public gallery of the Houses of Parliament collaboratively finding new ways to be more accountable and more democratic. You up for that?

UNSA – Jon Spooner’s next steps to Space

During the International SpaceApps Challenge in Exeter the Product Research Studio focused on helping Jon Spooner, an aspirant astronaut from the Unlimited Space Agency, get a few steps closer to his adventure into space.

Last year at the SpaceApps Challenge the team made a mini version of Jon Spooner in the hope he could go up to space in an astronaut’s pocket. Unfortunately this was never realised. So to help mini Jon get a bit closer to space we decided to make him a rocket with an on-board computer to run some test flights monitoring his environment. jon’s new rocket was 3D printed and filled up with mini-Jon and a Texas Instruments CC2541 Sensor tag.

More to follow…












SXSW 2013 – Make Space Data Physical

Making data physical means that more people can access it in more ways. Taking data from the screen and making it do things in the real world dramatically increases the potential impact of this data. And as far as being able to touch data that can never be touched, then space and time have to be it.  Things that are far away or things that are lost in time are two physical barriers we simply can’t cross and we want to find a way to do this.

For me, one of the most dramatic pieces of data I have come across are the chunks of wall that are missing from the Victoria and Albert Museum on Exhibition Road in London. I used to walk past these every day and wondered why no one had filled them in – as the V&A is one of our most precious buildings we have. Then one day I saw the small plaque where these word are carved in stone.

The damage to these walls is the result of enemy bombing during the blitz of the Second World War 1939-1945 and is left as a memorial to the enduring values of this museum in a time of conflict.

 I could literally touch the holes where shrapnel from bombs had blown holes. I could touch the data. I held my breath and for that moment I was there in far more a real experience than any I had previously had of the war. The data from an event 70 years ago had touched me when I touched it. I had travelled through time.

So can we do this to space data? Can we build connections between people here on earth that reach across the vastness of space – to far-off stars  – and across the vastness of time – to the very origins of the universe itself? We hope we can! Which is why when Ali Llewellyn from Open NASA got in touch a year ago we literally jumped for the chance to work with her and her team in making space data real here on earth.

We’ve been hacking together examples as demonstrators, or starting points, of new ways to connect people to space data. To give an example, if you start to put people’s emotions first then loneliness rather than measured distance is a great way to connect people to space. Rather than think of Mars Rover or Voyager as machines sending data over distance you start to think that they are out there all alone; on cold dark planets or at the far reaches of space. Forever alone.   It is this starting point that can start to make data more human. To make data a thing we want to love… Then we start to connect people to their loneliness… what would this mean? What could we design?

Our friend the jeweler Jayne Wallace is on our panel and her take on this is about the way data we receive now has been generated in the past, possibly billions of years ago – right back to origins of the universe itself.

Our lives have a pace to them and time is both something we crave more of yet know has an ultimately finite quality for us. Our interactions with the digital are quickening our pace of life and altering not only the texture of days and years but also how we value, measure and perceive the passing of time. But there are things that are bigger than us, things older than we can imagine, things that give our atomized view of life and the time we have a very different perspective and we simply have to look up to start to engage them. We want to explore what it would mean to use digital technologies and space data to subvert our relationship with time and bring fresh potential to the digital objects we live with and through. Through design we can use space data to create ways to experience now things that occurred before humankind existed, we can read by the light of a lamp connected to the live feed from a telescope and know that when it flickers a new planet has been discovered and we can connect to the orbits and rhythms of planets through objects that gently respond to these different cycles and be reminded that we are part of something much greater, much faster, much slower and much more fascinating than our atomized lives sometimes allow us to consider.

We’re also sharing our panel with someone who has more than a little knowledge and authority on the science behind all of this – David McGloin (many of you will know as @dundeePhysics). His team of undergraduate,  high school teachers and pupils have been exploring ways to connect to the dark side of the moon for use in the education of ways of conducting optical measurements of space objects.

“We know that space is one of things that most inspires high school students to study subjects such as physics at University, but it’s clearly a challenge to get hands in practical work while still at school. Our  project is an example of how we can use space data to try and make a more physical and immediate connection to the subject.

Heading up our panel is Open NASA’s very own Ali Llewelyn. I asked her what excites her about making space data Physical.

From the time I was a child, I wanted to touch the stars. I wanted to walk on other planets with my own feet and fly a spaceship with my own hands. While I am not an astronaut, and there isn’t yet a human presence on Mars – making space data physical enables me to get closer than most humans can yet get to those opportunities. My work at NASA in open innovation and mass collaboration is dedicated to exactly this: enabling everyone on planet Earth to contribute directly and substantially to the exploration mission.”

I then asked her what she thought were the possibilities that this approach presents?

“This approach inspires everyone with the wonder of exploration by making the data engaging and allowing it to inform a new context. (Who doesn’t want to drive Curiosity or touch the sun?) This approach democratizes exploration for all citizens – making what we are learning in space accessible to everyone on planet Earth.  This approach encourages new approaches and opportunities to the challenges we face in improving life on our planet and taking our species off-planet. This approach extends the usefulness of space data. While the data often had one initial research purpose, we are “recycling” it for other applications and uses, especially in new contexts”

And why getting our hands ‘in’ data is an amazing thing.

In the time it took you to read this sentence, NASA gathered approximately 1.73 gigabytes of data from our nearly 100 currently active missions! We do this every hour, every day, every year – and the collection rate is growing exponentially. Handling, storing, and managing this data is a massive challenge. Our data is one of our most valuable assets, and its strategic importance in our research and science is huge. We are committed to making our data as accessible as possible, both for the benefit of our work and for the betterment of humankind through the innovation and creativity of the over seven billion other people on this planet who don’t work at NASA. What would become possible if everyone could not just access but remix and reuse the images, maps, metrics and lessons learned from this amazing trove of observation?


Get Physical: Making Space Data Real On Earth

With Ali Lewellyn (Open NASA), David McGloin (University of Dundee), Jayne Wallace (University of Northumbria) and myself (Jon Rogers)

11am Monday March 12th in Omni Downtown, Lone Star

Hope to see you there!

Thank you to: New Media Scotland, Open NASA, RCUK, University of Dundee,  and Northumbria University












Mozilla Hack Jam – Data Live!

Lat week we were delighted to host a Mozilla Hack Jam. Data Live! was an event to explore the future of an open web that collected live data for news and made it physical. It was amazing to see the how into making things real people are. And as one of the Mozilla Knight News Fellows Cole Gillespie commented on how easy it was do get started with an Arduino when you’ve got someone (that’ll be Ali Napier and Chris Martin) there to walk you through it. Cole spent the next 36 hours starting a love affair with electronics that he never knew he had… more on this later!

It was a pleasure to bring in Paul Egglestone, Andy Dickinson and Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino who riffed about journalism, news, hyperlocal, digital content and the meaning of physical digital over two-days of making and doing in the DCA.. Paul’s two blog posts really do some it all up perfectly – with The New News Entrepreneurs Make Real Stuff and #Mozparty Dundee

There’s this really simple thing that people just get – that when you make something controlled by software do something physical it is magical. It really is. Every single time you wait a few seconds for the first download and boom there it is the Jaw Drop. The first hack of the day by Ali and Chris did this to pretty much everyone in the room with their twitter bird that pointed in the direction of geo-tagged tweets to it.

This followed on from Daniella Rovira’s lovely twitter bird that uses muscle wire to flap the wings of a twitter bird when a #tag is tweeted.

We were joined by both Nokia and Imagination labs from London who joined forces to hit out an incredibly well resolved game that was a mashup between Have I Got News For You? and ‘Whack-A-Mole’. It was a formidable team who knew what they wanted to do, knew how to do it and just got right down to hacking. And what a result! Check it out!

And we were treated to two guests who travelled long and hard on their tour of Mozilla hack-hames – the now legendary Cole Gillespie and Laurien Gridnoc – who flew into heathrow and drove up the night before making several stops on the way… Wow these guys can hack – and I can see how well the Knight-Mozilla News Fellowship worked last year. Really – Wow! #talent. I REALLY love this thing that Cole knocked up after an hour on Arduino… Google Streetview controlled by a joystick. He was using it as part of a mashup he’d written for connecting street view to situated videos – so you could navigate along a street view and see tagged video and play it… Paul thought that this would make an incredible documentary film makers tool – Can we Mozilla – can Cole and Paul and I make this (I’m thinking a 1980s style arcade machine form…) and bring it to the Mozilla Festival in November?

All the while we had people who took on facilitator roles and quietly moved people’s ideas on. Dean Wilson from Sapient came up and worked with people to push their ideas and to think strategically about why their ideas should exist. We were incredibly lucky to have Justin Marshall travel all the way from Cornwall to help us in our digital fabrication and our approach to crafting the way we make things.

There is a lot we could talk about. For me it went incredibly well. The huge reflection that I and really ‘we’ the community have to work on is how to make this repeatable. To go beyond the fun of networking and learning new things for professionals – and to take this into the world so that ANYONE can do this. That they can do this to use hack jams as a way to solve problems and to make their world better – whether they are better informed, better entertained or simply better connected.

A huge thank you to @zandr and Richard for throwing on the digital infrastructure and keeping us all on the web! And for the connection to the outside world through their Air Mozilla streaming – check the results of the final presentations

And a huge thank you to all of the 50+ people that pitched up, grabbed a soldering iron and showed the world that you can make the web physical in 36 hours. Your tweets were great and I’ve tried to sum up on this Storify.

So what next? I hear some pretty interesting things are happening with Mozilla Japan……

Make The Web Physical!