In collaboration with Google Creative Lab, the Web Lab exhibition connects a physical real-time experience within London’s Science Museum to the virtual workings of the internet. Tellart showed how the invisible magic of technology and the quicker-than-the-eye immediacy of the internet share common ground — onsite and online.
The Universal Orchestra is an eight-piece instrument array played by online and in-museum visitors. Half of the instruments are played by people online, and the other half by museum visitors. Each player’s interface displays color-coded notes showing the pitches of other online/in-museum collaborators, and lets the player drag-and-drop notes into a loop-based display.
Making live music with players both in museum and online — of different ages and skill levels — is no small feat. We explored a multitude of interaction models, physical instruments, graphical interfaces, live web connectivity, and the music they produce.
We used professional grade, tonal percussion instruments for their ruggedness, and designed custom frames to arrange them optimally for the recording and streaming equipment.
While players in the museum have an almost direct manipulation experience between the interfaces and actuators on the instruments, online players have a slight delay between moving a note on the site and waiting for the video/audio of the physical instrument to get back to their browser. We designed this latency to be visible by adding simulated “viscosity” to the online player’s interface, and explaining the technology behind the system.
The Sketchbot, a robotic system able to interface with online and museum visitors, captured and drew portraits in a tray of sand, providing visitors with digital artifacts of their interaction, and then wiping the tray clean for the next user.
As well as providing an engaging, personal, and highly shareable interaction, the exhibit educated visitors about the the languages used by machines, and the process involved in translating from digital inputs to physical outputs.
Acquired in 2014 as part of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum’s permanent collection, the Sketchbot is emblematic of a new paradigm for museum acquisitions: open-source software and hardware specifications as part of an acquisition. The hardware open source materials, a set of specifications and three-dimensional files, allow anyone to not only recreate the original system, but expand and build on it.
The Data Tracer emphasized the global and physical nature of the web, mapping the geographic locations of digital online content. Taking the form of a large projection-mapped topographical relief carving of the world, the exhibit let visitors use Google’s image search to find content, and then displayed a trace route of the servers that deliver it to your computer.
Cutting Edge Web Tech
Deceptively simple to engage with, the online and museum experiences utilized some of the web’s most cutting edge WebGL technologies to create the stunning map.
The Teleporter exhibit consisted of a series of web-enabled periscopes through which you could instantly access other locations around the world.
In order to create the magical experience of instant teleportation to a distant location, Tellart installed 360-degree streaming video cameras around the world, including in an undersea kelp forest in South Africa, a miniature kinetic Earth in Germany, and a bakery in North Carolina. Both online and onsite visitors could stop in to see streaming video at any time, panning and zooming to explore the far away locations.
In the museum, visitors were given Lab Tags with unique avatars and machine-readable optical tags. They allowed users to collect their personalized creations as they interacted with the individual exhibits, and then access them online using a home webcam.
Personalized interactions were integral to the design of the Web Lab, but with a list of target audiences that included the many school-age visitors to the London Science Museum, privacy was an equally important consideration. To address these needs, Tellart developed a system of avatars that allowed for shared social presence between online and onsite visitors, while still preserving anonymity.
The shareable creations generated through interactions with the exhibits were carefully designed to be personal yet anonymous, such as a snippet of video of the Universal Orchestra playing your composition, or a sand-portrait from the Sketchbot.
LAB TAG CONNECTOR
The Lab Tag Connector’s large-scale glass wall served as an introduction to the exhibition, showing museum visitors the scale of the exhibition’s online participation and creating a sense of social presence between online and onsite visitors.
The Connector was used to create compelling and educational visualizations of user geography, Lab activity, and other statistics. The data presentations were created with a mix of digital projections and a physical dry-erase mechanism, custom-built to allow for physical large scale visualizations that minimized materials waste.