05 August 2018

Winter scholarship students 2018

Four winter scholarship students created an interactive experience for Open Day 2018. Nhu Duong wrote about the experience.

SensiLab opens its doors to curious minds regardless of levels and disciplines. This winter, the lab engaged undergraduate students from IT and Design to do a Winter Research Scholarship project. This collaborative project aims to create a remote communication experience for Open Day, opening up dialogs between visitors to Monash’s Caulfield and Clayton campuses through unconventional interactions.

The final installation, Affinity Machine, includes two identical set-ups at the two campuses. Each consists of four telephones in cages hanging down from a metal structure. When someone picks up one of the phones, they can ‘talk’ to someone at the other campus in different ways.

At one cage, participants create music using a keypad made to sound like piano keys. The soundtracks they create are played at the other campus where someone may reply with another music piece. At another cage, as people speak into the phone, their conversations manifest in text projected in the middle of the structure. There are buzzwords that trigger images to pop up on the message board. People could also talk directly with the other campus like a normal phone, only their voices are filtered through many effects and echo, which alters the mood of the conversations.

At one cage people could create music using a keypad
Retro phones were found and hacked for the experience
At another cage speech was converted to projected text and icons

Retro phone models were deliberately chosen to create a sense of nostalgia, a tribute to past technologies and reflection on how fast things are changing. Digital display is kept to a minimum. The physicality of picking up a receiver, pressing buttons, saying something into it and waiting for something to happen enriches this playful and social experience.

The six week project saw the Affinity Machine slowly take shape through various iterations. The team went through intensive research, idea generation and feedback, followed by making, programming, asking questions, going back to the drawing board, then more tinkering and testing. It was challenging and messy, but at the same time fun and eye-opening. We have learned so much thanks to the support and facilities SensiLab has to offer. It really was a welcoming space to exchange ideas, to be curious, hands-on and creative.

The team took a familiar object, the telephone, and created unusual interactions. We questioned how the relationships between users may change as we venture beyond conventional rituals. In the digital age where no one pays any attention to telephones anymore, we want to show that these everyday objects still have the power to surprise and excite when coupled with programming and design languages. The project brought together creative and technical skills, old and new technologies, which demonstrates the expertise of design and IT students.

Winter Scholarship Students

Andrew Barnhill
Nhu Duong
Mohan Lei
Gideon Rubin