Friday, 31 October 2014

The Internet of Things

Part of a series exploring Pervasive Play - see the other posts in the series

The Internet of Things refers to physical objects which have a unique identity on a connected network. This allows a virtual representation of a particular object to be able to communicate with other connected objects, systems or humans. It gives an object a voice.

The idealistic view of these connected things is that we can have objects around our houses, towns and cities that make relationships together and enrich parts of our lives.

There has been huge commercialisation, along with crowd funding, which has impacted a quick growth of Internet of Things products on the market.

See this example of Microsoft Band which can help you "be a better human". Oh, please no!

Fig. 3. Little Printer (front) (2012)
Fig. 4. Little Printer publication (2012)
Fig. 5. Little Printer phone interface (2012)
Little Printer (2012 see fig. 3) by BERG, at first seems like a desirable and fun object. It is programmable by an application to print a daily report of social media feed updates, lists, recipes, news and weather reports (see fig. 4), it creates a personalised newspaper. But when you start to question this, it does not add any real beneficial connection or alternative beyond what is already available through apps on smart phones, which you need to programme the printer (see fig. 5). We start going in circles and turns out it is a bit of a gimmick. Jack Schulze, co-founder of BERG said during a talk at Cheltenham Design Festival (2014) “why bother doing it”. Experience, experimentation and understanding will develop future work. But at what cost?

These products throw up questions about the need to connect to everything. What is the reasoning for connecting to an object if it does not benefit. There are political issues surrounding the manufacturing process, ethical working environments and our use of raw materials for something that potentially has a short lifespan and does not work when the app is no longer usable.
"Connected Objects aren’t just going to be devices we own: they’re going to be public objects we share. And they can’t just work with bespoke apps for niche smartphones" (Armitage, 2014)
Contrasting to the growing commercial aspect of The Internet of Things, there has been an emergence in artists researching, experimenting and developing without the same reliance on immediate income of a product.

Hello Lamp Post

Hello Lamp Post from PAN Studio on Vimeo.

Hello Lamp Post (2013 see fig. 6) by design and research studio PAN, Tom Armitage and Gyorgyi Galik is a project which I feel encompasses the future of The Internet of Things and questions some of the issues surrounding the theme, whilst being playful. The project won Bristol’s Playable City Awards 2013 produced by Watershed.

Players make connections by communicating via SMS text message to everyday objects in the street. Hello Lamp Post is open to expansion, new objects can be unlocked by players using the identifier code which may already be part of the object (see fig. 7).

A player talks to an object by text messaging the central server which replies with a series of questions. The next person to make contact with the same object can learn about previous conversations and continue new dialogue.

Visitors and residents of the city become the players, everyone is eligible, there are no age limits, and almost everyone will have access to the technology in order to participate, play and connect.
Fig. 6. Hello Postbox (2012)
Fig. 7. Playable Codes (2012)

Unlike the commercial products, this project is not pretending that the objects are physically connected to the internet, it creates networks that go beyond physical cables. People are still connecting with inanimate objects and it is quite fascinating.

The simplicity with this is something the larger commercial market could learn from. My worry with this field is that it gets swallowed up by bigger corporations who are trying to monetize on the must have product. It is warming for a project which the central point is to empower the public and players to see the city in a new way, to make connections and memories through these objects which we pass everyday by turning them into playing pieces.

Internet of Things toys and games would be tempting to parents as a fresh way to entice children away from traditional computer games. Ideally these would require extra physical interaction and exercise, without requiring screen based play. This along with advances in computer game console controllers, like the Microsoft Kinect and Nintendo Wii, are hints at how the perception that computer console gamers are lazy, may soon be a thing of the past.

Read more at Part V – Affective Gaming

Part of a series exploring Pervasive Play - see the other posts in the series

Armitage, T. (2014) A Lamppost is A Thing Too. Available from: [Accessed 29 April 2014]. 

Figure 3. BERG Cloud Limited (2012) Little Printer (front) [Photograph] At: (Accessed on 29 April 2014).

Figure 4. BERG Cloud Limited (2012) Little Printer publication [Photograph] At: (Accessed on 29 April 2014).

Figure 5. BERG Cloud Limited (2012) Phone interface [Photograph] At: (Accessed on 29 April 2014).

Figure 6. Pan Studio (2012) Hello Postbox [Photograph] At: (Accessed on 29 April 2014).

Figure 7. Pan Studio (2012) Playable Codes [Photograph] At: (Accessed on 29 April 2014).

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