In the summer of 2012, I collaborated with faculty members and students from the U-M Digital Fabrication Lab to built a room-sized landmark for the school’s largest research center–North Campus Research Complex (NCRC), a 28-building, 174-acre campus. “Collaboration” is the theme for our design, as the goal of NCRC is to encourage experts from different disciplines to cooperate together and to bring up new ideas.
How to transform the value “collaboration” into a concrete representation?
Inspried by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s work, I proposed to make the installation as a flexible digital playground for people in NCRC, rather than as a statue that cannot be changed once built and deployed. Researchers at NCRC would be able to easily plug in an USB cable to the installation and reprogram a series of ambient light rods, motion sensors and microphones through Arduino programming language. Therefore, the installation becomes a place where different people could contribute their ideas together, embodyng the collaboration goal of the research center.
Currently the installation is already in place and I had completed several demo applications for it. HighWire will be a permanent artwork installation at NCRC. Upon constructing the installation, I explained the digital playground idea to many visitors, they were all excited about being able to create applications for the installation, and had started to imagine how they could interact with the installation. I believe empowering people to express and share their ideas is the key to facilitate collaboration.