February 15, 2022

I've noticed that a fairly common pattern in my work, is the need to create some sort of platform upon which I can develop and explore ideas. In a way creating a comfortable sandbox in which ideas can quickly be tried out. Having discussed bodies / assemblies in last weeks lecture, this seems like a useful opportunity to examine a current project, which is an assemblies, is a platform, and also interesting one that has evolved from what started as a relatively straightforward project.

As someone who has challenges with remaining focussed, I've explored a number of different things for trying to improve this, and work more effectivly - one that has worked well for me is the Pomodoro technique which at it's core, can best be described as setting a timer for a short period of time, say 20 minutes, setting yourself a task, and focussing on that for the duration of the timer. Having used it for a number of years now, I've found great benefit in it at a functional level - what I've found less good is finding a good way to manage timers. It quickly became apparent to me that…

  • A timer on my computer is extra noise that distracts from my focus
  • Typically apps fdesigned for it, go beyond the basics, and have features which I don't find helpful
  • I'm more likely these days to be doing work not at my computer
  • Separate clock times are invariably ugly, or do too much
  • To help maintain my focus - I don't want to see time remaining, or time of day - but I want to know roughly where I am

After almost finding a good timer, (ruled in for using it's shape to set timers running etc, ruled out for not being simple enough), I started thinking about creating my own - especially as Pimoroni had just released at 2.1" round display for use with a Raspberry Pi, which looked like an ideal way for providing the visual side of a user interface. My initial designs focussed on something very functional, but as I started to thing about my list of things I did not like about what is out there, the project started to evolve away from this original utilitatrian view.

There were two key elements of evolution, first how can I create a way of providing inputs to the timer, without using convential concepts like buttons, or touch controls - the second was how can I use what it displays as a subtle, abstract way of informing me whats going on - and more importantly can I make it an object of beauty, something which can use my own art to set a tone, and inform me of my progress - almost in an ambient / gentle way.

I'd like to talk a little about the device as an assmebly - which it literally is - but in how combining, display, Raspberry Pi, Intertial Measurement Unit (IMU), Proximity Sensor and Haptic output can come togetehr to create something greater than the sum of it's parts. In it's current stage - a disembodied prototype - in which the display sits on a Raspberry Pi4 Compute Module carrier board, whilst the IMU and Haptic output sit on a prototype assmebly shell, and the proximity sensor sits on the outer shell prototype. It still comes together tp have it's own personaility - which is a key element of this project.

Input to the device is managed through the IMU, and Proximity sensor - the proximity sensor detects if the users hand is nearby, and when so, triggers an overlay of any necessay information, although these overlays have not yet been designed, these need to be clear, but not overlay full of information. Where user input is achieved by rolling the device from left to right - when hed for a short period of time on the downward side, this option will be chosen. Meaning for example the most common interaction - starting a timer is a case of rolling the device to the left or right, with each offering a different time available.

The real revelation is the display though, at 480 pixels in diameter it's of very high quality, and with the CM 4 capable of a high frame rate of output - working with a round display is an interesting challenge, and one can't help be influenced by use of a round screen by Pink Floyd in their live stage sets over the years. It however creates an amazing canvas, for creating relatively simple visualisers, which can be run in the Idle or timer states. So far these include one based on a non typical stacking of lego plates to create a long spiral, on absed on Manfred Mohr's P112 Lady Quark, and one based on a combintion of concentric rings, and a star burst pattern.

So nto only has this assmebledge taken live, in how it interacts, it's also helped to provide a platform on which ideas can be easily tried out, and experminted with - something that may not always be considered in the output from such a device.

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