Touchable services: Art Server


In March 2006 Fourth year interaction design students at AHO conducted intense one-week investigations into Near Field Communication in a project called Touchable services. See more student projects.

Anna Daniell, Castilnano Simoons, Stig Skjelvik and Christopher Svendsen looked at new commercial models for artists and galleries, and the social sharing or artwork.

Stig Skjelvik explains:

‘For most people art is expensive. You have only the possibility to look at it in a gallery, buy a poster, or find a picture on the internet. But what if we can make a system that makes it possible to se the art, and then send it home, or even more interesting, to send it to a friend, loved ones or family.’


In their prototype, the students placed RFIDs alongside artefacts at a gallery. When touched with an NFC phone, an image of the artwork was sent to a digital picture frame in another place.


The prototype was very simple and loaded URLs from the phone that prompted changes on a standard web-page. This was just enough to test out the interactions between users at the gallery and in the home context, which proved to be interesting and engaging. The system reinforced a strong connection between the two users, and the appearance of new images created the sense of a ‘gift’.


This project is particularly interesting in its realisation: all the elements of the service were prototyped, from the gallery interface through the web server application through to the industrial design of a digital LCD frame. Quickly prototyping all elements of the system in this way allowed them to test the service in context: in a gallery and in the home. This allowed the students to really get a handle on the experiential side of the prototypes.


Artwork by Anna Daniell. More detail at Stig’s weblog.

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Touchable services: Underskog


In March 2006 Fourth year interaction design students at AHO conducted intense one-week investigations into Near Field Communication in a project called Touchable services. See more student projects.

Anette Andersen and Jørn Knutsen worked with the web service Underskog (the undergrowth). Underskog is infamous in Norway as one of the first social networking services, it offers event calendaring, collaborative weblogs, discussions and is invite only. It is shining example of situated software.

In their analysis, the students listed the strengths and weaknesses of the online service. Underskog is really good at handling the time before an event. It answers many of the questions that arise: Is anyone I know planning going? What does it cost? What do other people think of the place? Where do I get tickets? Where exactly is it? What kind of people are coming? I want to let other people know I’m going.

What Underskog currently is not good at is the time during an event: Are any of my friends here? Where are all my friends? He should be here by now? I’m bored, what else is going on? I want to let my friends know I’m here.

They designed a simple system that would log users into venues by touching a tag in the venue. Users would then rate events by touching a happy or sad face. The use of RFID-tags placed around arenas and events would allow for very quick ‘swipes’ or ‘touches’ to indicate presence and ratings, this is particularly important in a context where interacting with a screen may be socially inappropriate.


Through the use of scenarios the students demonstrated the usage of such a system. The mobile interface told you how many of your contacts were there, and also if your contacts were somewhere else. It also sent information back to where information would appear on a map.


Being a one week project, they did not look into detail what the advantages of this system may be over other forms of communication like SMS or simple mobile internet. But what is particularly interesting about this service is that the RFID tags can be placed by anybody on any venue, becoming a parasite of existing infrastructures much like Underskog itself. The service is potentially totally user-driven, and doesn’t require venues to sign up to the service in order for it to be useful.

See more at Jørn’s weblog.


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NFC in action

A video has surfaced from the recent launch of the Nokia 6131 NFC phone at CES. The demo shows some basic functions of touch-based interactions such as using a ‘smart poster’ to make a phone call, uploading pictures to a picture frame, printing out from the gallery and paying at a contactless Visa till.

It is instantly clear that the interaction with the device has been much improved since Nokia’s previous NFC attempts. As the NFC interactions are now a core part of the operating system the response is very quick, and the range of functions is becoming appealing. The comments on both YouTube and Gizmodo are unusually positive.

Using a ‘flip’ form for an NFC device is very clever, as it allows the RFID reader to be at the top of the device when opened: the most natural placement for people to use the phone as a physical ‘pointer’. In previous NFC ‘candybar’ phones, the RFID reader has been placed underneath, to separate it from the multiple other antennae at the top of the phone, and this has been confusing for users.

Meanwhile in Japan KDDI unveils ten new devices almost all of which include FeliCa. Lets hope there is some compatibility between NFC and FeliCa in the near future.

Posted in Interaction design, Mobile | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Nokia releases first mass-market NFC handset

Nokia 6131 NFC handset for mobile payment, ticketing and service discovery

Nokia today announced the 6131 NFC phone, the first integrated NFC handset that will (operators willing) be available to the public. Previously NFC had been confined to ageing handsets like the 5140 and 3220 via add-on covers, both of which did not support the latest NFC standards and had limited capabilities. The new handset will be available in select markets in the 1st quarter of 2007.

Nokia’s press release:

“Unlike a simple card or keytag, which only allows for one-way communication, an NFC-enabled mobile phone allows users to realize the benefits of a fully interactive experience. For example, touching an NFC-enabled advertising poster or informational kiosk can automatically link the user to interactive Internet based information, open an audio file, or download new content directly to the handset. Additionally, an extra layer of security is enabled when making contactless payments since the handset can be set to allow payment information only when the user expressly authorizes the transaction via a password, unlike a card or tag, which can be used by whoever has it in their possession.”

“Along with its NFC features, the Nokia 6131 NFC phone includes an extensive set of today’s most wanted wireless features. A built-in digital music player with microSD card support and FM stereo radio allow customers to enjoy their favorite music on the go. A 1.3 megapixel camera, featuring a dedicated camera button and 8x digital zoom makes it easy to capture and share images. Bluetooth wireless technology enables easy connection to a wide selection of Nokia enhancements and PC’s or even the ability to go handsfree in compatible automobiles.”

It’s a simple Series 40 phone, not a high-end smartphone, but these features add up to a respectable and hopefully cheap device. It supports Java MIDP 2.0, Bluetooth and EDGE, all of which should make application development with NFC that much easier.

Now the big question is the rollout of NFC services. NFC technology offers very little without a supporting infrastructure of regionally specific ticketing, payment and custom services. Will we see London Transport selling Oyster phones, or Tesco selling loyalty phones? Without services/applications like these, the handsets themselves are likely to be hard to sell.

Posted in Mobile, Product design, Retail, Ticketing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The rituals of touching

I had the pleasure of meeting Charlie Gere at the Architecture and Situated Technologies symposium in October, where he gave an intriguing introduction to The Liturgy of Things. You can listen to the whole talk by following that last link, but the main points revolve around cultural rituals that bind communities. As Charlie explained, in the early 60s Marshall McLuhan was writing about the relationship between the liturgy, mass media and new technologies like the microphone, emphasising that new media technologies affect social organisation. McLuhan called on Thomas Merton’s observation that the liturgy is a fundamentally public and participatory activity, and Charlie connected these ideas to Bruno Latour’s parliament of things, emerging technologies (like RFID) implicated in the internet of things, and related discussions on participatory culture. What I took away from all this was a renewed appreciation for ritual, and a desire to further explore touch and touching in terms of cultural rituals of participation, inclusion and exclusion.

Understanding ritual has long been the domain of anthropology, but one of my professors in graduate school was fond of reminding students that ritual is not just the domain of other, more exotic cultures, or of the intellectually-suspect religious amongst us. If nothing else, ritual is as mundane and crucial as everyday life. In New York, Charlie, Richard Coyne and I also spent some time discussing the religiosity of famous philosophers and theorists, and how embodied ritual is a way for different people with different orientations and directives to come together. Although these activities can involve the magical, they share more in common with Matt Jones’ recent descriptions of play, and Blast Theory or Jane McGonigal’s sense of games. Charlie also alluded to this in his talk when he connected the liturgy to the spectacular (one good reason not to abandon the Situationists in discussions of locative technologies!) and I think there are some interesting, and underexplored, connections between bricolage, hacking, syncretism and ritual.
In Touch in art and elsewhere, a small online exhibition he’s just curated for, Charlie recalls bits of our conversations and continues to inspire me:

“Recently, for various reasons, I have become interested in the question of touch, in art and elsewhere. We live in a world in which the ways in which we can communicate with each other become more and more immaterial, incorporeal and virtual, particularly through the increased use and greater ubiquity of digital technologies. In this context touch is often occluded and, at the same time, overly fetishised. In the last half century or so, there has been an increasing interest in touch in art, especially in relation to performance and telematic works, that may be a response to the increasing virtualisation of culture, though the question of touch can be traced in far older works, particularly some of those dealing with the life of Christ, which is, whether we are religious or otherwise, the founding myth of Western culture, and which has determined much of our understanding of questions of presence and absence, corporeality and spirituality, and our relation to the senses and thus to touch.”

From Titian’s Noli me Tangere to examples of museum “look but don’t touch” policies, he draws attention to many of the themes central to our current Touchpædia project. Touchpædia v1.0 is planned for a late January release, and here are just some of the topics it, um, touches on: bodies, commodities, contamination, control, femininity, healing, labour, pleasure, sports…

Like Charlie, I’m interested in cultural practices surrounding what can, and cannot, touch. Applied to RFID and Near-Field Communication, this becomes a question of connecting some things and disconnecting others. Put another way: whether we’re concerned with issues of technological privacy or publicity in our everyday lives, I believe we’re well served by a stronger understanding of cross-cultural examples of ritualised contact and avoidance. It’s my hope that the Touchpædia will be a step in that direction, and I’m looking forward to seeing where it might lead.

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From workshopping to designing

This autumn we have run the Near field interactions workshop at Nordichi, the RFID hacking workshop at AHO both of which resulted in many product ideas and early prototypes. The project has also been part of workshops such as MIRW at Mobile HCI.

Many people have been passing through Oslo including Adam Greenfield and Bruce Sterling both giving great lectures and running a student workshop at AHO. The project has also started to work with Bengler, Schulze & Webb and Anne Galloway on various research strands.

There is a lot to write up and summarise, so I’m travelling to London for the next ten days to immerse myself in writing and design work, and to set up further workshops in specific areas.

We finally managed to fit in some design work this week, on a range of NFC products that we will prototype over the next few months.


More on this soon.

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RFID hacking workshop

RFID mapping

So this week Touch is running an informal workshop where we are looking at the materiality of RFID, potentials in Radio Frequency and EMF, and building simple interactions and services using the technology.

With us this week are Matt and Jack of Schulze & Webb, Even, Simen and Alex from Bengler, and Matt Karau (formerly Media Lab Europe).

So far we have uncovered two very interesting directions for quick prototyping and hardware hacking. More updates soon.

Posted in Events, Product design, Technicalities, Workshops | 4 Comments

Post-nearfield interactions workshop


More photos at Flickr

Last weekend’s workshop was intense and productive, everybody brought a great deal of knowledge and enthusiasm which made the two days extremely exciting. Both Nicolas and Julian have already posted some notes and thoughts about the two days, and we shall write up a report of the event soon.

So far there are three talks online:

Ulla-Maaria Mutanen
Chris Heathcote
Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino

And the submitted papers are now available to download as a pdf.

This is the place to leave a link to your presentation if it’s online, please send it to us otherwise. Many thanks to everyone!

Posted in Events, Workshops | 3 Comments