The Rattling Chair

I’m interested in an interface that does not involve a user interacting with a physical object to induce an output. What if the user’s movements in their proximity within a given parameter of space were the input? The input of information by the user could be detected by sensors that don’t make contact with a physical object — such as sonar sensors, infrared, or motion sensors. I am interested in the ability of a human body to retain its memory of its position within an environment, and how it navigates itself through said environment. What does the body remember through its senses?

In a way this scenario might also be defined as a tangible user interface because it does take place in a physical space.

A blind person navigates through touch and sound. A deaf person navigates through sight and proportion. Each is an example of a person lacking one sense utilizes available senses to make sense of feedback. A blind person may move toward sensations that evoke a pleasing emotional response, such as a sound, a warmth, or a smell. This would be somewhat of an example of an environmental embodiment, where the output (like “Toon Town”) is ambient, but the input is not an avatar, but the user. Chris Downey, a blind architect who lost his sight in the aftermath of successful surgery to remove his brain tumor, speaks of discovering a world of information garnered from different sense that defines his relationship to his environment.

Here is a story from his Ted Talk that illuminates the range of emotion that comes with subsequent discovery of his surroundings:

“So, stepping down out of the bus, I headed back to the corner to head west en route to a braille training session. It was the winter of 2009, and I had been blind for about a year.Things were going pretty well. Safely reaching the other side, I turned to the left, pushed the auto-button for the audible pedestrian signal, and waited my turn. As it went off, I took off and safely got to the other side. Stepping onto the sidewalk, I then heard the sound of a steel chair slide across the concrete sidewalk in front of me. I know there’s a cafe on the corner, and they have chairs out in front, so I just adjusted to the left to get closer to the street. As I did, so slid the chair. I just figured I’d made a mistake, and went back to the right, and so slid the chair in perfect synchronicity. Now I was getting a little anxious. I went back to the left, and so slid the chair, blocking my path of travel. Now, I was officially freaking out. So I yelled, “Who the hell’s out there? What’s going on?” Just then, over my shout, I heard something else, a familiar rattle. It sounded familiar, and I quickly considered another possibility, and I reached out with my left hand, as my fingers brushed against something fuzzy, and I came across an ear, the ear of a dog, perhaps a golden retriever. Its leash had been tied to the chair as her master went in for coffee, and she was just persistent in her efforts to greet me, perhaps get a scratch behind the ear. Who knows, maybe she was volunteering for service. ”

In a designed scenario, a seeing person may remember where they are if they are able to see the objects that anchor his or her position within a space. Suppose they are in a dark, blank room with no objects or markers. They could be disoriented and emotionally unmoored. If they were to move toward one corner and find that that gentle lights illuminate that corner. Suppose in tandem to that light source, perhaps a warmth can also emanate (presence of heater) – the combination of these two sense could suggest a sense of being outdoors, of being in the presence of sunlight. If this person moves away from this area, the light and warmth diminishes. That particular corner would take on an emotional value. Conversely, another area in that blank room could trigger displeasing effects; the person would avoid that area. In short, what ultimately happens is that the user develops a spatial mapping of the environment based on their physical position within that space. It is also about a discovery of the relationship of their body’s physicality and how it relates to an environment, such as an urban community.

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