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Press release
Touch Me
Tecno and Interaction Ivrea

Versione Italiana

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  Davide Agnelli
  Hernando Barragán
  Dario Buzzini
  Gaurav Chadha
  Mathias Dahlström
  Tal Drori
  Karmen Franinovic
  Eyal Fried
  Ivar Martin Lyngve
  Daniele Mancini
  Belmer Negrillo
  Valentina Novello
  Giorgio Olivero
  Søren Pors
  Aparna Rao
  Tarun Jung Rawat
  Michal Rinott
  David Slocombe
  Luther Thie
  Peggy Thoeny
  Helma Töpper

  Giorgio Olivero (Italy)
Expertise   Interaction design, electronic prototyping, graphic design, motion graphics, web design, real-time video
Education   Masters in Interaction Design, Interaction Design Institute Ivrea, Ivrea, Italy (2004) Studies in Scienze della Comunicazione (Communication Studies), Università degli Studi di Torino, Turin, Italy (thesis in progress)
Bio   Giorgio has been a graphic and web designer since 1995. In this role he has worked for companies such as Pirelli, Telecom Italia, Sai Assicurazioni, Regione Piemonte, Seat Pagine Gialle, and Fastweb. He also has a side career as a Vj working with the best of the electronic music scene in Italy and producing the visuals for Nike and Coca-Cola events. After graduation he was hired by Interaction Design Institute Ivrea to develop concepts for the InstantSOUP project, a website and a series of workshops to teach electronic prototyping in a playful, non-technical way.
Focus   To explore new paradigms of interaction design for public events, theatre, shops, fairs and clubs. Teaching physical interaction design. Tangible interaction design for electronic music and real-time video.

4 June 2004
  What questions guided your research?
Giorgio – The project started during our first year. We had several questions: How can we work in the public space of a café? How can we enhance and stimulate different kinds of social interaction in this kind of space? How could the public arena of this space be displaced and enhanced by the use of interactive technology? Peggy – We were given the context of the Italian bar during the class “Building as an interface” by Stefano Mirti. Giorgio and I shared the same interest - the social dynamics within such a space - and that is why we teamed up. During the first phase of the project we analysed the social situation in a café space. We discovered that the tables themselves are a very interesting part of a café because people gather around them and they become the scene of a very rich social interaction. At the same time, a café table is also isolated from other tables and we both thought that we would like to do something about that. We wanted to playfully work on the spatial configuration of these tables and find a way with media to change them, to influence them and to stimulate exchange between the tables.

Why did you decide to take your class project forward into a thesis, whereas all the other students didn’t?
Giorgio –During that class it was only a video scenario. Nevertheless we really enjoyed the concept we came up with. So leaving it at this unfinished state seemed like a bit of a shame. Also, when we showed the project to people both within and outside the Institute, they gave us very good feedback. People got the idea very quickly, could envision it in a real space and told us that it could work. So we said to ourselves that it is time to bring this idea to the real world so we started prototyping and shaping the interaction. Peggy – The video scenario was only showing the potential that could be explored. During the first few months of our thesis work, we developed this research further, and only in January we started bringing all these ideas together.

How did the project change in the transfer from video scenario to prototype?
Giorgio – A lot of major and minor things changed. We used the video space and the tabletop surface itself in different ways. Peggy – We changed from using a video monitor wall to a projection, which gave us much more liberty in how to stitch the images together. But we kept the central idea of “Boundary Play”, which was inspired by Cristena Nippert-Eng, of people who are physically distant but can interact with each other since they share a communication space, so the perceive themselves as close.

One can say that there are two tools: a tool to draw on a table with light, and a tool to project all the tabletops of a café in a grid on a wall, allowing you to connect with other people’s projects or to continue other people’s drawings.
Giorgio – You can think of the table as a set, like a theatre or movie set, because there is a camera over it, with two different layers. The light drawings people make become the background for action and other set pieces on the table (coffee, drinks, cigarettes, keys, phones, hands, arms), which is all framed by the camera.

When you move your finger over the surface, you can make a series of small lights inside the table go on, by making a contact through connecting two metal dots. The light has a certain delay so it stays on for a while.
Peggy – We changed that. Now they have no delay anymore, but stay on until you touch them again. So you can draw.

Why did you work with a camera above the table? You could also have a system that simply displays what you are drawing? Why also show the cups and the glasses?
Peggy – This is a really important point. From our analysis and research, knew how rich and beautiful the interactions on a tabletop are: these little things that people do, they bring personal things to the table, they read a paper, arms move. There is a bit of a voyeuristic thing happening that is very interesting. The drawings are just an added feature. The main things are people and their hands on the table and the freedom they have to display and publish whatever they put under the camera. So we provoke people to become creative and do things on the tabletop that they didn’t do before. Giorgio – If you only showed the light drawing, you are taking away all the richness of what you are doing with your own body parts. In fact, this project is about self representation in a public space or how your behaviour, or part of your behaviour, is being broadcast. The broadcast makes your behaviour both public and anonymous. Faces are not shown, just the table top, and there is a deliberate time delay of a few seconds: you can do something and before it happens on the wall projection, you can be doing something else.

The delay makes it more playful.
Peggy – One person could do something and quickly do something else. Others would see it, but would have no way of telling who did it. While testing, we saw a lot of people putting their face on top of the table, so they could see their own face, which is a satisfaction in itself. That’s why a lot of social places have mirrors, so you can perceive yourself in such a setting and publish this. Giorgio – A café with such an installation is obviously a different type of café, but it is still a café. The traditional way of using a café space is still there. If you don’t really want to engage in an active way with the system, you can still experience it more as a voyeur. The system is not demanding your interaction. You can choose to engage with other people through the system or you can ignore it. But even then, you would still contribute content to that place

Is the light image on the table erased if someone leaves the table and new customers come in?
Peggy – No they stay. But if you want, you can touch the edges of the table to delete everything.

How big is the grid?
Peggy – It is sixteen by sixteen points, 256 points in total.

So it’s more a conversation provoker than an actual drawing tool.
Peggy-The role of the café was always to engage people in encounters and exchange. The whole system does not have any restrictions in what people do, it can be very provocative in what people might do and these frictions and clashes are very interesting. It is very important to give the possibility that exchanges and discussions can happen. The fact that other people are present in the room will automatically lead to some self control: what can I do, what can I not do, what is my limit, what is other people’s limit?

Could it also work without the light?
Peggy – Of course. The fact that you can draw with light is just a tool to engage people more on the surface, where after all the interaction starts. We built a prototype to see if we were really right, and also discovered that the very tactility of the table provides its own satisfaction. The prototype that we showed at the Salone exhibition in Milan didn’t even fully work, but people were constantly touching the metal points. It’s not only a tool to express, but it also stimulates people to be active on the table. Giorgio – There are two possible uses. If you are drinking a beer and you are speaking and not actually drawing, your subconscious playing and moving will create a light shadow that follows what’s happening on the table, because many things can activate the lights. Any conductive material can turn on the lights: moisture, metal, skin… But when you are using the system more expressively, you can add a semantic layer: you can frame your actions and give them another meaning by using the scenography of the electronics.

Two projects, one could say, that work well together, yet one can exist without the other.
Peggy – We would never do the light table without the video system. Giorgio – As a single object, the light table would be banal and boring. It only becomes interesting when it is part of a relational design, of a system.

Is this table café resistant? Cafés have quite heavy conditions, drinks being spilled, glass being broken, tables falling down etc. You chose a delicate technology for a place that is not very delicate.
Giorgio – There are different café spaces of course. And our table will be waterproof. If somebody would spill a beer, the entire table would light up - as it should do. We always intended to play with the presence of liquids on that surface.

Can you do that?
Peggy – With our prototypes not, but that can be fixed. You can mould the metal into other materials, like plastic or glass. If we want to commercialise this, the first thing to do is to make the table vandalism and drunk proof, and to also take a better look at protecting at the camera holder.

What’s your next step now with this project?
Peggy – The feedback we got was “we want a place like this”, so we want to take it forward. The next step maybe would be to fine tune the design and do some more user testing.
Giorgio – We also need to make the electronics more reliable. We are looking to have one table ready for the end of the year exhibition. Peggy – Our next goal after that is to find interested people out there who would finance, and might want such a system for their own spaces, for image building for example. Giorgio – We are interested in interior design in bars or hotels. We also want to submit the project to competitions and get further feedback that way.

What does the name Tableportation refer to?
Giorgio – To teleportation, a Star Trek technology that allows you to be beamed from one place to another in an instant.

What of Interaction-Ivrea has changed you the most, has left the biggest mark on you? What will you carry forward in your personal and professional life?
Peggy –I’m from a product design background, and there you are mostly limited to following somebody else’s brief or building somebody else’s stuff. The nice thing in a place like Ivrea with all the different backgrounds and talents of the people here, is that you can collaborate on much more complex systems. The impact you can have on a place like a café is so different, than what you can have by simply designing products. This complexity opens up totally new possibilities. What has changed me the most is working with other people, with other disciplines. I was very lucky with all my colleagues. Giorgio – I learned how to shape my energy and to confront it every day with such a variety of people and characters. That was what really changed me in these two years. It is not a particular knowledge I will bring with me - about electronics, design or interaction design – but the crazy variety of people and all the different, interesting ways to learn; the fighting, the excitement, the dissatisfaction, together with the hectic and super energetic. These were two years of trial and error and really learning by doing and learning by mistakes, all within this exposed but at the same time protected space. When I looked back at the last two years in IDII, it seems like fifteen years of experience and excitement.

What do you want to do now?
Giorgio – Gathering more experience and applying what I learned. Now I know how to make so complex projects happen in real life, so I want to try that out. Not a grandiose plan. Now I just want to rest a bit and then work on more projects, so many ideas and uncharted territories to explore and research. I'm ready and very excited about it.
Peggy – On the one hand I want to take Tableportation further. But there are also other things, ideas and thoughts that I had in these two years, and never had time to develop. I started with them and then I could not continue in the way I wanted because the next thing started. I need to reflect again on these two years and distil some of the stronger issues. Finally, I will be moving into a new place in south Sweden. Another new country, new challenges, new things…

(Interview by Mark Vanderbeeken)

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Physical Computing Course 2002
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