Ember

Capstone Project

Role

Research, Design, Prototyping, Modelmaking

Themes

Social Design, Public Space, Temporary Furniture, Community Building

Timeline

8 months

under the supervision of Prof. Juan Jimenez Garcia at Carleton University

Project Timeline

Literature Research
Survey

User Interviews

Concept Iterations

Prototypes

Prompt

How might we increase opportunities to congregate and connect in community spaces?

Primary and Secondary Research

34
Survey Participants

5
Interviews

Literature Research

Research Goal:

Investigate where, when, why and how urban residents use public space.
What are the desires and the barriers?

Area of Focus

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A model of interacting factors surrounding sociability and environment was assembled from the insights of the primary and secondary research. This model maps the relationships between different topics of interest and represents the current understanding of the seasonal socialization situation. What can be observed from the model is the centrality of mood. There are several different factors affecting mood, and it has a direct and measurable relationship with sociability. Influencing mood thus seems to be an important method of encouraging sociability in combination with the other proven methods outlined in urban planning and space-design academia.

Design Brief

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Concept Iterations

Network Concept
Ideation is kicked off with a simple concept which responds to the design brief: overhead lighting follows users through space and interact playfully between neighbouring users.

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Network Interaction
Data gathering techniques were tested with the purpose of stimulating user reflection. Macro usage trends were found to be the most valuable for space users and government. 

Network Scale Model
Users were prompted with an urban and invited to engage with the scale model. Feedback was recorded to inform future concepts.

Community Campfire Scenario
This scenario introduced the campfire metaphor, which was intended to bring a story to the interaction. This metaphor had potential because the fieldwork identified perceptions of “cold” and “darkness” to be key barriers.

Ablaze Scenario
The Ablaze scenario consolidated physical communal interaction and spacemaking into a central landmark

Ablaze Adapted Scenario
The adapted Ablaze scenario incorporated touchless interactions in order to extend the interaction to a broader audience

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Ablaze Prototype
A full size interaction prototype is used to test the physical aspect of the concept. The physical prototype was paired with electronics to allow users to see the lighting effects in correspondence with their interactions

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Preliminary Ember Prototype
A rough touch-sensitive prototype was created to run user tests with accurate tactile sensations and lighting feedback

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Ember Definitive Design
The definitive design is composed of interactive structures that can be temporarily deployed in community spaces such as parks, plazas, or courtyards. For a temporary period, the structures use built-in sensors to create an interactive environment of shimmering lights. Once the system has left the space, the anonymous usage data is made public to reveal community trends that can inform future government decisions.

Final Design

What

Ember is a modular system for transforming public spaces and discovering data-driven community insights. Ember is composed of interactive structures that can be temporarily deployed in community spaces such as parks, plazas, or courtyards. For a period of 6 to 10 weeks, the structures use built-in sensors to create an interactive environment of shimmering lights. Once the system has left the space, the anonymous usage data is made public to reveal community trends that can inform future government decisions.

Why:

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Community Informatics

Every 15 minutes, the units store the quantity of IR sensor detections and playful interactions. The synthesis of this simple data can reveal a community space’s most active times of day, days of the week, most high traffic areas, among more. 

This database will elevate the understanding of the city on a community level, and aid city officials in making informed funding, planning, and development decisions.

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How:

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Touchless Interaction

The IR sensors detect user movement in the space and nearby Embers glow brighter. Interactive prototyping and user testing found that touchless interactions were essential to extend meaningful experience to users that were only briefly passing through the space. 

Room for Play

Using a simple internal microphone, impacts from steps, jumps, and knocks on the surface of the Ember are detected and provoke an animated “shimmer” to propagate through the nearby Embers.

User Journey

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Design Rationale

Form

Simplified and cost-effective manufacture Modularity allows for various arrangements and masses from a single form allows for greater adaptability to different contexts

IR Sensors

Proximity interaction is low commitment and engaging for the "passer-by" user. Infrared sensors are ideal for this touchless interaction as they can be shielded from the elements inside the plastic shell.

Glow

Warm glow makes these sculptures inviting points of outdoor congregation, and connects with a wide variety of users. The fire-like animation addresses the perceptions of "cold" and "darkness".

Microphone

Reacting to physical engagements (sit, kick, jump) promotes play and pleasant interaction without including fussy mechanical components.

Base

The base is designed to facilitate quick and easy assembly and disassembly. Removable plugs allow for optimal routing of power and data cables depending on the arrangement of the site. The use of anchors to secure the base make installation simple and unintrusive.

Models

Media Appearances

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"Alex Whiteley's project, titled Ember, also seeks to bridge gaps in social connections — in his case, by taking aim at the links between neighbours and at public spaces. 

Whiteley's project is two-pronged. On the surface, it's about enhancing public spaces with dynamic lighting and sensors. [...]"

From park users to children with autism, Carleton students build connections - Joseph Tunney