Physical Computing

My Role: Concept | Programming (Processing&Kinect) | Design | Installation

"Limitless" is a 16 feet tall interactive swing that takes users to a desired location through virtual images projected on a screen in a gallery space.

The user begins his journey from an outer-space view of the earth, as the he sits on the swing and initiates the back and forth movement, the virtual map will start to zoom in and out, while progressing deeper into the globe and the view will start to become more localized.  Once the user reaches his final destination, the projection will end with a hyper-local view.

The virtual map projected onto the screen is generated by Processing sketch, a programming language which I used to connect sensor detection and visual content. The code takes  as inputs the distance threshold between the wooden swing and a Kinect sensor and plays the journey route using images from Google Earth's API.

How I came up with the idea:  We all want to have as much fun as kids regardless of our age. However, grown ups usually do not get a public playground. I repurposed a kid's playground swing for adults to make it more suitable yet keeping the fun.I focused on finding an appropriate environment for adults. I brought a swing into a more sophisticated indoor space. I looked for a perfect sound and an narrator voice for relaxing atmosphere. After user testings, I found out that having a perfect sound was crucial for users to really enjoy the experience. The narrator informing about the location on prompt timing gave an effective responses as well. It was also pivotal to detect the movement seamlessly with infrared detection.

Technological problem:  A playground swing does not give much feedback other than back and forth oscillation; it's a simple act that provides a limited view of his/her current environment. I wanted to enhance the current function of a swing by giving virtual world view and extending a swing's sight limitation. This also gives a shift in a way we think of our daily object.

The traditional swing is a simple yet engaging tool, but the problem is that it gives the same cycle of movements over and over again. I focused on this experience to be a very pleasant, rhythmic one. By approaching this act as a one story, the whole act of swinging becomes a special journey with an origin and destination.

The swing is a simple yet engaging tool filled with nostalgia, but the repetitive nature of its output, makes the experience relatively short as the user gets tired of viewing the same sight.  My objective was to change the notion of a traditional swing, while focusing on this experience to be a very pleasant, rhythmic, and constantly changing one. I programmed this project to mimic a journey as the whole act of swinging becomes a special ride with an origin and a destination. 

Finally, focusing on my target audience of adults between 20-50, I embedded playful experience with romance by extending the seating for two persons. The dimmed atmosphere and sophisticated satellite visual makes the piece fit for an art piece at a gallery. 

Planning the Experience:  I wanted this experience to be fun yet as poetic and romantic as possible since this is targeted towards adults. The origin of this concept stems out of connecting lovers. I grew up in South Korea hearing legends of couples forcefully separated by the government (long before the separation of South and North Korea) because the man had to travel to do his civic duty. As a result, girls were left at home worrying that the men they loved would never come back. Each town had an incredibly long swing to help girls see if they could spot their loved one returning to the town. Using a swing as a tool to see farther across foreign lands sparked the idea of my project, "limitless."

The installation is suited for a calming environment that allows the swing to move back and forth about 3-5 feet. While users swing back and forth, I wanted the technology to be completely hidden so it does not hinder the experience. To help them focus on this artistic act, a quiet space is needed to have the project's sound to hug the atmosphere. The screen in front of the swing does not need to be very tall yet it should give movie screen like experience: about 10 feet above the ground and 6 feet in width was ideal.

Through user testing, I came to a conclusion that Kinect sensor was the easiest and most accurate tool to translate my idea. There were some users who would be really rough and increase acceleration and there were also some who were scared to go fast. To handle both opposite behaviors, the sensor needed to detect the movement fast and accurately. Incorporating narrators sound turned out to be crucial for users to really understand and engage. 

The swing itself is made out of wood but lacquered in glossy black to lend an air of modernity. Black color also allows supports the screen to speak for itself. There is a custom made footstep underneath the swing. The footstep hides a Kinect sensor and helps users to get on the swing easily.

The purpose of Limitless:   This project is made as a conversation starter. It asks questions of merging outdoors and indoors and what other tools can we use to travel to the other side of world. This satellite visuals as a virtual tool gives an observer a opportunity to sit back and think about the world in third person perspective. 

"Limitless" gives a swing a different purpose than a typical children's toy. It is made change the way people look at a familiar object in a different way. This project is more of an experiential piece; it makes people question the way they see and feel. Reversing an outdoors activity to indoors, substituting an art gallery into a playground.

Limitless brings the world so much closer sand gives fascination.

The impact of Limitless:   I believe that "Limitless" impact is about questioning the ideas, and norms that are deeply embedded in our minds.  So I took a simple concept like a swing, and transformed its experience in hopes to question the boundaries between a kid and a grown up, outdoors and indoors, and replacing an art gallery into a playground. My project is purposed to change the way people look at a familiar object, no matter how simple or traditional the idea in question is.  In my case, a swing . 

I also wanted to achieve, a more immerse experience for the users to be pleasantly surprised by the way they see and feel during this improbable journey. This satellite visual that act as a virtual tool give the observer the opportunity to sit back and think about the world. Observers of this experience also gets a third person perspective about this journey. "Limitless" brings the world so much closer and gives fascination.

Lastly, the technology that is built in my piece is not for showcasing but only works as a medium to translate my idea. Minimizing the physical computing part for a seamless user experience really refined my visual concept.