Low Tech Sensors and Actuators

Prototype research for a suite of low-tech sensors and interactive actuators that can be produced inexpensively from hacked toys and devices. [With Adam Somlai-Fischer, building on ideas explored at RAM4 and Outside In].

The final report and instruction manual are now available at lowtech.propositions.org.uk

Commissioned by the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, Liverpool, we developed a suite of low-tech sensors and actuators using electronic children's toys and gadgets that can be hacked for their constituent parts. In this way, artists and architects can quickly and cheaply develop interactive spaces and objects. The outcome of the project was an instruction manual of sorts, a manifesto for low-tech, a conceptual framework for complex interactive systems.

IR toys as proximity sensors, cats as interfaces, torches as power sources, walkie talkies as wireless networks. Have a look at our PDF report at lowtech.propositions.org.uk

proximity sensor laseractuatorengine wireless To Laser
Proximity sensor, laser actuator engine and remote laser switch

Artists and architects who want to experiment with concepts of interactive spaces and responsive systems, particularly on large, urban-scale projects, are often prevented from doing so because of the complexity, logistics or costs involved with such systems. Prototype research seems prohibitively expensive and the most interesting concepts and approaches remain on the drafting board until a suitable client/investor/sponsor is found. Alternative channels for financing and development need to be found; a solution is at the heart of open source architecture: the combination of reusability and "low-tech".

kinetic walkie talkie
A self-powered wireless footstep sensor

New media artists and architects don't necessarily need the precision and accuracy that scientists usually do in order to explore the poetries of interaction. They therefore often do not require such sophisticated equipment in order to develop truly interesting interactive projects. They work well with the "making-the-best-of-what-we-have" approach, using artifacts at hand, and are comfortable with the idea of "hacking" existing technology (in the sense of taking it apart to understand how it works and putting it back together again, usually with improvements). In this way, it is possible to design interfaces, sensors, bio-feedback devices and actuators all using relatively simple technology that might even already exist in people's homes. In particular, inexpensive remote control toys are these days ripe for dismantling and reworking; kids walkie-talkies can be used to set up a simple wireless network; energy source for a simple interactive device could be generated from the movements and footsteps of people within a space.

laser actuator room laser actuator room
Wire-free sound/touch/GSM/proximity-responsive laser-lit room

One way to pursue this line of work is to develop a suite of low-tech sensors and interactive actuators that can be produced inexpensively from off-the-shelf toys and devices. These "hacked" devices can form part of a "kit-of-parts" that new media artists and interactive architects could use for their interactive design projects. The results of this research and design will be available online.

November 2013: Please note that Haque Design + Research is now Umbrellium, where more up-to-date information can be found Umbrellium