Dr Ad. Spiers (Haunted Pliers) was the technology partner for the Flatland R&D project.

Each audience member used a haptic handheld navigation prototype device to enable them to move independently through the dark Flatland world. This portable personal device uses novel touch-based sensations to feed information to the audience as they move. This is an extension of our first navigation device, the Haptic Lotus.

Ad Spier’s detailed review of localisation systems for the project can be viewed here.

For Flatland R&D, several new prototype devices were tested, including devices which used gyroscopic effects and variable centres of mass for navigation. The ‘Haptic Sandwich’, which used a shape changing mechanism, was selected for use due to haptic communication capability, physical aesthetics (particularly in relation to the geometric world of Flatland), robustness and ease of fabrication. This device, dubbed the ‘Animotus’ in the final script, is a 3D printed cube sliced horizontally through the middle so the top half can translate and rotate relative to the bottom. This simultaneously communicates proximity and heading.

The new haptic device used the location of audience members inside the space, in a similar way to GPS, to provide navigational cues. A variety of localisation systems were trialled for use in the project including those based on Wi-Fi fingerprinting, Bluetooth LE, artificial magnetic field generation, radio frequencies and MEMs technologies. Finally, Ubisense (an Ultra Wide Band radio frequency based positioning system), combined with tilt-compensated MEMs magnetometers and X-OSC (a WiFi and Open Sound Control based microcontroller) were selected as the hardware components of the system. This setup provided the best trade-off of workspace (the size of the installation), resolution (how accurately we could track people), latency (how often we could measure user position), ease of setup and cost.

In addition to the personalised haptic navigation experience, the installation features other tactile technologies in the environment, such as electronic textiles, which bring weaving, and sewing to create conductive materials that can be linked to touch and sound feedback for the audience. Several zones for audience exploration were created in this way. The first, a canvas ‘window’, was sewn with embroidered dots which vibrated when pressed. Two large walk-through structures used conductive thread sewn into curtains and elasticated cords to trigger audio sequences when touched. The e-textile elements were created by Emilie Giles and Janet Van Der Linden.