Graeme Rutherford of LOVE posted this To Infinity and Beyond Zero Latency and Computer Gaming | Manchester Digital on the Manchester Digital web site following a recent IBZL workshop.
Last month, I presented a paper (written with OU colleagues Simon Bell and Adrian Jackson, and Daniel Heery of Alston Cybermoor) to PDC 2012 reporting on the IBZL project, and more specifically on the ‘Real Avatars’ and ‘Flying Shepherd’ prototypes that Daniel Heery at Alston Cybermoor followed up on with support from the Technology Strategy Board. The paper particularly highlighted two things.
Firstly, we discussed how the Imagine method that we used in the workshops can be seen as a form of ‘Future Workshop’ that involved stakeholders in thinking about novel futures. The participatory design (PD) community has long been concerned with users exercising control over technological and other systems that affect their lives. In IBZL we haven’t used Imagine to engage users since we are concerned with novel ideas for whom a potential user audience has not even been defined; indeed that is one of the things we might think about in a workshop. So, Imagine is a technique for engaging people to think about the future at an earlier stage in the process than in many PD interventions.
Secondly, and following on from the above, the paper reflects on who we involve. PD has its roots in Scandinavian trade unions in the 1970s, and in parts of the US civil rights movement of the 1960s, and historically at least is concerned with the politics of control of technology. While these concerns about emancipation seem rather less prominent in the PD community than they were (which personally I found disappointing about PDC2012),we used the paper to reflect on this aspect of PD in the context of IBZL. After all, the case study we reported was led by a social enterprise, and initial discussions around possible business models for a ‘flying shepherd’ owned by a co-operative of farmers were inherently mutualist. This is not a necessary outcome of the IBZL/Imagine method, but is a reflection of the sort of idea that would follow from the sort of participants we invited to the workshop. Of course, we can’t claim that this was in any sense representative, and as we work with local authorities and others who need to demonstrate a clearer democratic legitimacy for the work they do, this is likely to be an issue that will need further thought.
These ideas are examined in more detailed in the paper. A draft of the paper is available here, in the OU Open Research Online. The final version is available only to those with access to the ACM Digital Library. I believe a video of my presentation will be available at some point, and I’ll post the link here.
And the photo? The conference dinner was held at replica Viking village to demonstrate some of Scandinavia’s communal and participatory heritage….
For the third year in succession, we ran a session at Manchester’s excellent Future Everything, held this year at the Museum of Science and Industry. This year we focussed on what we have learned so far, organised around three short presentations. In the first, Prof. Simon Bell outlined the Imagine methodology and what we have learned in the process of using it in our IBZL workshops. Daniel Heery, from Alston Cybermoor introduced the ‘Flying Shepherd’ prototype (as covered inter alia on BBC North). Thirdly, the OU’s Sarah Davies presented some of the interesting things that the Science faculty are doing to allow students to do real science online.We finished up with a Q&A/discussion session.
Drawing on our group’s brainstorm at last year’s Phase 2 IBZL Education workshop (part of the OU’s eSTEeM initiative to explore novel approaches to teaching in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects) , OU colleague Elaine Thomas, Paul Richardson (Swansea/JISC & OU AL in the Science faculty) and I developed our thinking as a paper “What have the Romans Ever Done for Us?” which we presented before Easter at Networked Learning 2012 in Maastricht. The paper outlines how the three of us considered how superfast broadband networks, in combination with other technologies, might enable the design of new types of ‘hybrid’ digital/material networked learning resources. Rather than students linking to blogs and wikis and so on, they might link to devices that interact with the material world directly. We considered 3d scanners and printers in teaching archaeology and the example of the SenseBoard used in our OU technology module TU100. As Sarah Davies pointed out, though, our colleagues in the Science Faculty are already getting students to collaborate in the remote control of x-ray scattering machines and astronomic telescopes (the latter via the PIRATE project). The paper points to these examples, and suggests that there is a potential new forms of ‘hybrid’ networked learning resource combining material and digital artefacts connected by next generation networks, and points to some sociotechnical issues which are likely to be involved in building effective infrastructures.
As well as OU staff and associate lecturers, participants in the three working groups included people from Bristol’s digital and creative industries. Following the workshop, we have set up a google mailing list to provide a forum to develop some of the ideas from the workshop further.
On Saturday Dec 10th, we held the first of our eSTEeM-supported ‘Phase 1’ workshops in OU regions at the West Midlands Regional Centre in Birmingham. ‘Phase 1’ workshops explore the spaces potentially opened up by next generation networks and other technological developments. These ideas then ‘seed’ Phase 2 events which explore potential project ideas and identify possible consortia to deliver them.
The Birmingham event brought together associate lecturers the Faculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology (MCT), Health and Social Care, and Tessa Berg from Heriot-Watt University developed explored ideas of ‘ The Empty’ as a space for ‘offline’ life, and multisensory information presentation.
This Summer saw practical outcomes from one the early IBZL workshop projects.
One outcome of the 1st and 2nd IBZL workshops in Manchester in May and October 2010, was the “Stealth Shepherd” idea. This was the notion of using physical avatars to represent individuals in a rural setting. The first two examples of this were an aerial avatar for use by hill farmers (the Stealth Shepherd) and a remote tourist ground based avatar to represent individuals unable to get into the countryside.
Cybermoor,a social enterprise, based in Alston, Cumbria, picked up this project and proposed a feasibility study to the Technology Strategy Board (TSB). This was successful and resulted in field trials of both avatars in Summer 2011. A final report has been produced for the TSB
Our initial investigations surprised us with the limited availability of devices suitable for our two functions. There are very few remote presence robots available suitable for the remote tourist role and while there are more remotely piloted aircraft available, costs are very high.
We chose the Giraff from Giraff Technologies AB as an example remote tourist and trialled it with excursions around Alston Town Hall. The Giraff was loaned to us by the Manufacturing Systems Research Group at Warwick University.
Blue Bear Systems Research provided us with their aerial avatars – a conventional fixed wing plane and a stable helicopter based platform. The aerial platforms were demonstrated to local farmers in July 2011. BBC Cumbria local news produced a report on the aerial avatar available at BBC Look North. The aerial avatars attracted a great deal of interest with farmers spotting applications spontaneously. Two initial applications are: use in search and rescue and in the management of livestock (the original Stealth Shepherd).
The ground based avatar is likely to need a little more development. It needs ruggedising for outdoor use and is not really suitable for unaccompanied use.
Overall we learned a lot from the trials and we have the basis for future projects which are likely to result in the use of remote avatars in the countryside.