All posts by Product Research Studio

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

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.

Tea with Richard Banks

Yesterday we had the pleasure to receive the visit of Richard Banks, who spent the day talking to the studio researchers and PhD students. Richard works as an interaction designer at the Socio-Digital Systems group of Microsoft Research Cambridge. Among others, his work analyzes the long-term impact of technology in our lives – how we can live with digital objects for decades, potentially passing them down through generations. His research vision and feedback was invaluable to all of us – thanks, Richard!

NCR Student Competition – Win!

Product Level 3 student, Callum Brown, wins the NCR student competition with his project “Travel Phone”.

“Travel Phone is a mobile phone rental service that encourages safe and convenient travel through the up-keep of communication and safety abroad.

At a kiosk at their destination, the customer can pay and collect a phone containing their pre-saved preferences, to use throughout their visit in that country, and return it via post at the end of their journey.

The phone incorporates basic communication features, a GPS map and tourist information, and comes as standard with a USB cable for charging on-the-go. Accessory upgrades are offered to cater for individual travel needs.

It allows the customer travel comfortably knowing that they can easily contact emergency services, their national embassy, or find a place to eat and stay, without worrying about caring for a valuable phone.

Roles are reversed – the phone looks after the user, and through simple design, it prevents them standing out in a busy, intimidating environment.

Payment schemes: deposit; up-front fee etc.; are handled by the network service provider. Self-service kiosks incorporating touch-screen, chip & pin and phone dispenser, is made by NCR. Since NCR are looking at directing their design straight at the user, it may too be viable for them to manufacture the phone.

Travel Phone is a service that, through offering safety and convenience to customers, will bring business and revenue to NCR and mobile phone service providers, and most importantly – it will nurture brand loyalty to both.”

Vision Plus Conference at NID

Tea with Anab Jain

Last week we received the visit of Anab Jain, who gave her insights into the projects that are currently being carried out here. Anab is the founder of Superflux, and the creator of the Power of 8 project which brings together scientists, urbanists, educators, and permaculturists to imagine optimistic futures. Many thanks for your valuable input and hope you will join us for tea again soon, Anab!

Connection Boxes

Making a Printer for Totem

Wouldn’t it be great to link any object directly to a ‘video memory’ or an article of text describing its history or background?

That’s one of the provocations behind TOTeM, a research project exploring social memory in the emerging culture of the Internet of Things. As part of this, we are making a portable printing/stamping machine that will be able to leave a temporary QR code on any surface. The aim is to print these tags from your phone, and be able to read tags that you find with your phone, linking you back to the author’s video or text memory to do with the object or place.

In practice this is a not inconsiderable mechanical challenge, as I am oft reminded by Mike, but we’ve made good headway with a solenoid test rig (pictured above) and some custom marker-based print heads. It’s messy work. Ultimately, the printer will use the headphone socket of the phone as an output to the printer, the same method that Apple Karts used to control motors.

You can already contribute your memories and get printable tags at .


Ideas Day

On Friday we had various visitors up to speak to the students, and to also have a design debate for our annual Ideas Day. On the bill this year was:

Abigail Sellen (Microsoft Research)
Tim Regan (Microsoft Research)
Richard Banks (Microsoft Research)
Tim Brook (Nokia Research)
Steve Birnie (NCR)
Charlie Rohan (NCR)
Bill Gaver (Goldsmiths)
Chris Speed (Edinburgh College of Art)
Kenny Anderson a.k.a. King Creosote (Fencecollective)

The students all received great advice on their projects, and the debate at the end saw some interesting topics discussed likes the future of social media and what will product design be in 10 years. I will hopefully have a video of the big debate up here shortly………