Plastic Fantasia Opening Night

RFID Reader for the Oxfam Curiosity Shop

Over the last 6 weeks a team of us from ToTEm have been rapidly producing a set of three RFID readers for the Oxfam Curiosity Shop, a popup shop in Selfridges in London that opens today. This Oxfam shop is entirely stocked with celebrity donations and vintage items, and 35 of the items are tagged with RFID tags. Upon scanning the RFID tag with our Reader, a video tale pops up on screens in the shop, told by the person who donated the item.

This system was trialled prototypically at a previous Totem/Oxfam event with excellent results, so for this outing we took the existing hardware, streamlined and repackaged it and scaled up the software to deal with several readers and many more videos. Some pictures of the resulting reader device are here on my Flickr stream.

detail of the illuminated part of the reader

How it Works
The basic principal is that an RFID sensor detects the unique ID number of an RFID tag, which is sent via bluetooth (radio) to the video software running on a computer behind the scenes. Meanwhile a PIC (programmable integrated circuit) chip detects that the sensor has been activated and triggers the clear acrylic part of the reader to glow brightly as feedback for the user. The software (running in Quartz) receives the ID number and finds the video associated with it, sending it to the monitor for playback.

How we Worked
The project has been a real team effort with lecturer Pete Thomas and myself (Roy Shearer) working on the physical design and production, technician Willie Henderson machining the housings, research assistant Mike Shorter programming the interface behaviour, IMD technician Ali Napier and head of product design Jon Rogers working on the software and Angelina Karpovich producing the video content. In order to deal with the tight timescale and the fact that we all have various other responsibilities, we pioneered an entirely text email based Gantt chart system. This basically consisted of an ever-evolving to do list assigned to dates and people! I actually think this worked surprisingly well, as it was immediate and easy to refer to across all our phones and computers, regardless of software. I won’t pretend that things weren’t missed, but I still think these were fewer than if we had used a more involved organisational tool. Lo-fi methods win for nimbleness yet again, I’d say.

The readers are now in use by the staff in the Oxfam Curiosity Shop, not to mention Annie Lennox, so do go and have a go – you have until the 14th April. Stay tuned for some video hopefully and a bit of coverage from today’s opening.

Annie Lennox and the reader

Rameshwaram- Field study

Curiosity Reader with Oxfam in Selfridges

Product team design and install the Curiosity Reader for Oxfam’s pop up Curiosity Shop.

** WHAT IS IT? **
The Curiosity Reader plays stories of donated objects to Oxfam’s Curiosity Shop.

** WHY? **
In 2010 the TOTeM team trialled a simple RFID story telling system in one of Oxfam’s shops in Manchester. The project, called Remember Me!, tested how consumer habits were effected by playing back stories of the second hand items donated to the shop – the incredible result coming back that sales increased by over 50% during the time that Remember Me! was on. So this time around, we got designerly and put in place a new form designed and made by Pete Thomas and Roy Shearer, and a new behaviour. Here’s a small iPhone Movie of Michael Quigley giving a demo – and a cameo of me in the mirror….

The Curiosity Reader is an RFID reader that links through bluetooth – taken from an Instructable by Tamberg to a computer playing video stories on a screen in the shop. Ali Napier from Digital Interaction Design here in Dundee did a great job of coding the viedo controller using a mix of Java Script and Quartz Composer For the Curiosity Shop A-list celebrities donated items for sale in the shop and we tagged and linked items to stories – a bit like the one from Annie Lennox – shown in more detail here in a blog by Andy Hudson Smith. .

** WHEN? **
The team: Chris Speed, Andy Hudson-Smith, Angelina Karpovich and Maria Burke will be down at the Curiosity Shop until the 10th April – and you should go check it out if you do a fine line in vintage.

Plastic Fantasia exhibited in Naples’ Museum of Plastic

Plastic Fantasia sign

Last night was the sneak preview of Plastic Fantasia for the Italian press and art & design society in Napoli. Anna Clara Rendahl, Patrick Stevenson-Keating, Mike Shorter and Elio Caccavale (all from the Product Design course at the University of Dundee) have been working on the project comissioned by PLART, museum of plastics in Napoli since October, recently being joined by Mike Vanis (from Digital Interaction Design) in the last few weeks.

Plastic fantasia is a world of sinister delight, mysteries and curiosities. In the domestic environment, traditionally products live a contented life. However, in Plastic Fantasia, everything is not quite as it seems. In this world, the products have a life of their own, detached from normality. They are menacing and murderous. They scuttle and scurry, each product becoming a part of a larger horrifying story.

Plastic fantasia is a freak show where plastic design classics have been transformed into animated monsters, merging the ideas of a House of Horros and the classic Disney film “Fantasia” where inanimate objects come to life.

This project forms the focal point of the latest exhibition in the PLART museum, and is surrounded by other pieces from numerous Italian designers. Plastic Fantasia has been wonderfully received by the press, making it onto National TV and newspapers, and also by those people lucky enough to see the exhibition before its opening to the general public on Friday 1st April.

It has been a fantastic experience for the young designers to present this project to such a large audience, and to represent the University of Dundee as they will soon be graduating this June. We are now looking forward to enjoying the last few days in Napoli and everything it has to offer before the preview, and then heading back to Scotland on Sunday.

Plastic Fantasia

Plastic Fantasia

Plastic Fantasia