RKNFG

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RKNFG is an installation developed during the summer 2012 residency programme in Atelierhaus Salzamt. It was shown at the consecutive exhibition Expand, Explore Expose in the Salzamt gallery, curated by Doris Prlic. RKNFG was meant to test simple interaction between a person and the traffic on a wireless network.

To do so, RKNFG was constructed like a cubicle or booth with a changeable height. It’s dimensions of 1x1m base and about 1.55m initial height allowed one or two persons to enter and experience the top raising or lowering, according to the amount of packets on a wireless network that was scanned. They could use their smartphones to influence the traffic, or simply experience the traffic generated by other users.

THE SETUP
The installation consisted of the interactive cubicle hung from the ceiling, with motors attached to its top, controlled by a microcontroller and a computer (with a wireless card).

RKNFG-interaction-scheme

INTERACTION
The interactivity of the setup is reflected in the following loop chain: the system reacts to the traffic generated by the visitors (or others) and in turn affects their experience of space and comfort (by lowering or raising the top). Visitors then adjusted their behaviour (usually by making more network traffic) as a reaction to the movement of the cubicle. In the case of RKNFG, the language of interaction was minimal, as the range of the movement was under 12cm.

The scanning part was done at the laptop side using the aircrack-ng software. The results of the airodump-ng command were filtered to track only the traffic of a particular open wireless network that was available in the gallery space. A (python) script was then reading this log and comparing the number of packets to the previous one, every 3 seconds. It would then send the command to the microcontroller with the new position of the motors. The decision on the position was made based on the change in the number of packets, 4 levels of change were defined. In case 1, if there was a significant increase (more than 50 packets), the script would send the “shrinking” command to microcontroller and the motor would reduce it’s length by a third. This would effectively raise the top by about 4cm. Case 2 would occur when the change in number of packets would be between 8 and 50, and the motors would then shrink for about 1cm. If there was no new traffic (packet difference is 0), the command would be to ‘go down’, increasing the length of the motor and lowering to top of the cubicle by about 2cm.

HARDWARE
The cubicle is constructed from two sheets of plywood, 1x1m each, connected by stretchable fabric at a distance of about 1.55cm. Two Firgelli linear servo actuators are attached to two points on the top of the cubicle. The actuators are moving the top up and down, controlled by an Arduino Uno microcontroller, which is receiving values from a laptop fixed on a wall nearby.

SOFTWARE
RKNFG is using Open-Source software working on a Debian OS. Arduino firmware available from google code (http://code.google.com/p/extended-python-arduino-prototyping-api/) is used on the the microcontroller board. The programme that connects the network traffic scan to the microcontroller is written in Python and is available here: http://emperors-wiki.kucjica.org/doku.php?id=motors-scanner-test-1

EXPECTATIONS

  • Create an indirect interaction between visitors browsing the Web and the space they occupy. The size of the space (in this case only it’s height) would grow when there was more traffic, which would in turn give more comfort to the current occupant of the cubicle.
  • Test the interactivity and understandability of such system.
  • Test and observe the influence of a changeable space on visitors.
  • Observe visitors reaction to a physical manifestation of their ‘browsing’ activity.

RESULTS
Interaction with RKNFG was straightforward and clear. As soon as there was activity on the network, to top would raise and visitors picked this up very quickly. Because the network was open, they could observe the direct relation between them generating traffic and the top of the cubicle raising up.

They did not’t, however, need to ‘enter’ the space to experience this. Instead, they mostly stayed in front of it and observed the behaviour of the cubicle. It was therefore not often possible to observe the influence of changing space on visitors.

Interaction was not very spontaneous. People would take out their smart phones and stand in front of the cubicle, ‘commanding’ it to move and were satisfied as soon as it did. They were rarely surprised by the behaviour of the cubicle and they mostly stayed outside of it.

The change in height of only about 12cm was insufficient to produce a wide enough range to express complex behaviour. The visitors could still perceive the movement as well as a height difference because the space was initially very low (155cm).

To conclude, RKNFG did provide visitors with some awareness of their invisible network traffic and enabled an interesting interaction between the height of the space and their online behaviour. This interaction, stayed however very limited in expression, due to the physical constraints of the equipment used (length of motors) and the non-emersive character of the cubicle (many visitors interacted with it from outside).

Future work should focus on creating a more emersive environment, with a greater range of modification. Next to this, I will work towards a more complex shape-making structure which reacts to multiple networks in its surrounding.

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