Quadricone

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Quadricone is an interactive structure that reacts to the activity of surrounding wireless networks, reshaping the space it entangles. It consists of four ‘cones’ which dynamically reshape according to the amount of traffic going through WiFi access points in its surrounding. The visitors can interact with it indirectly, through devices they use to connect to the Internet. This kind of interaction emphasizes our fusion with our technology on one hand, while at the same time raising awareness of its physical presence in different forms.

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THE SETUP
Quadricone is formed out of a sheet of stretchable fabric, 7×2.25m, fixed at a height of about 1.80m, spread between two walls. Wire cable are running along the longer sides to keep the fabric in as horizontal position as possible. Four points of the fabric were ‘activated’ by motors, connected to the fabric with cables rolled up on custom-made wheels. The motors with wheels were fixed to heavy (40kg) bricks which kept them from being pulled up by the fabric. The movement of motors was controlled by a microcontroller which was receiving commands from a computer.

full technical documentation on emperor’s new wiki

quadricone-interaction-scheme

THE INTERACTION
The following reaction chain connects the elements and participants of the setup: four points on the Quadricone react to the activity of four wireless access points in the surrounding. This activity can be generated by the visitors present in the space or not. Accommodated by high stretchability of the fabric, the shape of the fabric modifies, creating obstacles for movement of visitors under the Quadricone ‘skin’. Visitors react by modifying their browsing activity (usually trying to generate more network traffic) to the desired effect they want to have on the ‘skin’ (making the space more comfortable or claustrophobic).

The overall network traffic in the space is scanned, using the aircrack-ng software. The results of the airodump-ng command are logged and fed to a custom-made programme which is reading the number of packets for each network. The programme takes four most active networks and compares the current number of packets on each network to the previous one, in an interval of 1s. It then makes the decision on the movement of motors accordingly, one of 5 possible cases. The reaction ranges from doing nothing (none or too small change), small movement of about 3cm (rolling the cable down for 0.5s in a lower speed), slightly bigger movements of 5 to 8cm (rolling the cable down for 0.5 to 1.5s in a higher speed) to extreme movement of about 10cm (rolling the cable down for 2s in high speed). Because motors could turn continuously, they could theoretically roll on full length of a rope, pulling the point where it was attached down by 2m. In practice, they were limited by their strength and the overall pressure in the fabric pulled from four sides to lengths of about 30-40cm.

HARDWARE
The shorter sides of the 7m long, 2.25m wide sheet of stretchable fabric are stapled to wooden laths, which are then fixed to two walls, stretching the fabric in between. Two wire cables are running along the longer sides to keep the fabric as flat as possible. Small hooks are attached to four different points on the fabric, with a 2.2m long rope tied to each. The other side of the rope is rolled up on a custom-made wheel out of plexiglass, which is attached to the motor. Four HiTEC HS-645MG ultra torque servo motors were modified for continuous rotation to allow for a greater movement of the fabric.

EXPECTATIONS
– Observe the quality of interaction; do the visitors make the connection between their actions (i.e. watching an online video) and the reaction of the installation; once they understand the principle, do the visitors change their behaviour to achieve a particular impact on the installation (i.e. try to generate more or less traffic)

– Test the use of WiFi as a parameter in design. More specifically, examine the relevance of data traffic in representing the presence of WiFi.

RESULTS
The space where the installation was tested with audience proved to be quite poor in network traffic. There were numerous access points visible in the scan, but none of them had a significant number of packets going through even in the span of 1 hour. Further on, we had no access to any of the available networks in the space, making interaction impossible for visitors. Because of this, a decision was made listen to the beacon frames instead of packets. Beacon interval depends primarily on router settings (defaults at 50 or 100ms) but in case of very low signal strength not each one is received. This number was used to display the activity and availability of different access points in the space of the installation.

The installation was very responsive to the presence of wireless networks in the exhibition space, especially when considered that their activity was very low. The ‘cones’ were moving down and up, their movement clearly visible to the visitors.

The space where the installation was tested proved to be quite poor in network traffic. There were numerous access points visible in the scan, but none of them had a significant number of packets going through. Further on, we had no access to any of the networks in the space, making interaction impossible for visitors. Because of this, a decision was made listen to the beacon frames instead of packets. Beacon interval depends primarily on router settings (defaults at 50 or 100ms) but in case of very low signal strength not each one is received. This number was used to display the activity and availability of different access points in the space of the installation.

Quadricone’s purpose was to go further from a visual representation of these data, rendering them physical and thus allowing for an immersive experience. Environmental process are modelled here into a tangible interface for interacting with wireless communication signals. It is in this way that we can evaluate our experience of spatial presence of wireless networks and other wireless communication signals.

At the same time, Quadricone was an exploration of an interaction system, where physical space would interact with data, as well as with the user. One important aspect of the installation is exactly this openness to inputs from different ‘locations.’ It does not offer merely a ‘scan’ of this dynamic environment, but it allows for interaction with the users, therefore becoming a physical interface.

However, in offering a ‘flattened’ view of wireless network activity, Quadricone might have had mislead the audience into believing the setup was a geographical mapping of networks. One very important questions for future development is therefore: to which extent does it matter who generated these signals and what are the consequences for interaction with them? What is the clarity of interaction in such a system, when the input is translated to a linear mechanical movement of the ‘peaks’? What further possibilities of interaction with wireless communication signals exist?



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