String Figuring is a project that wanders: starting from a motivation to explore fiber-arts for feminist retaliation and culminating in the design and development of a novel soft sensor. Perhaps best characterized as an act of reflective design or critical making, the story of design that we will tell in this paper, which will be presented at CHI 2018’s Late Breaking Work session, ties together feminist theory, material studies, and cultural reflection to suggest a novel form of sensing – a string figure sensor.
The string figure sensor is a concept or early prototype for a string-based sensor that can know something of its own shape. We created a proof of concept by knitting conductive thread and wool around a wire core, resulting in a semi-rigid loop that feels similar to a pipe cleaner in one’s hands. When someone plays with the loop, the crosses and knots created in it result in measurable changes in resistance. We take resistance measurements at five points along the length of the loop to create a resistance “signature” that correlates to various shapes or figures created with the string.
Collaborative survival is a term coined by anthropologist Anna Tsing to describe how our (human) ability to persist as a species is deeply entangled with and dependent upon the health of a multitude of other species. We (Jen Liu, Daragh Byrne, and Laura Devendorf) wrote a paper that explores how this term inspires design. Specifically, Jen Liu reflects on collaborative survival within the context of designing tools for mushroom foraging. Photo Credit: Jen Liu. More Information: fieldcomputing.org
Emilia Louisa Pucci, and independent artist and designer, worked in the lab this summer exploring textile-based display. We created this circular weave using wool dyed with thermochromic pigments and embroidered heating wire. When current is supplied to the heating wire, the wire heats up and the yarns next to the wire change colors. We arranged the heating wire into several distinct spirals that become visible the longer the viewer is present. What was most interesting about this display is the slowness and the idea that the display will likely never repeat the same pattern. The heat created by the yarns varies based on environmental factors and creates a slightly different abstract pattern each use.
Another interesting discovery from this project is that, since wool is a great insulator, the heating wire running along the backside of the fabric is not visible on the surface. This allowed us to create an animation on the surface of the fabric and a different “negative space” animation that was only visible on the back side of the fabric.
Emilia presented the piece at Intersections, a conference on collaborations in textile design research in the UK. She equipped the final installation with a proximity sensor that would trigger the animation upon the viewers approach. The installation runs off an Arduino, motor driver (to give the heating yarns the current they require), and 12V power supply.
Published at Designing Interactive Systems (DIS) 2017. This paper describes how the metaphor of the hybrid shapes how we imagine the future of technology. Drawing on feminist technoscience, We propose the alternative metaphor of coproductions to provoke visions for human-technology futures.