The research element of the Flatland R&D project was led by Janet Van Der Linden, Director of Research in the Department of Computing and Communications at the Open University, UK, and head of The Pervasive Interaction Lab.


 drawing photo showing a laptop and a small electronics board with brightly coloured connectors to a mother board. Also shown are a pair of scissors, a clothes zip and a haberdashery pin cushion  frame


This project investigated how technologies centered around touch and bodily perception can form a new sensory means for audiences to engage with dramatic installations. We looked at this through the lens of HCI (Human Computer Interaction), where we are focusing on the user experience for the visitors to the installation. As part of the research we wanted to understand how technology can enhance a theatrical experience seamlessly and become part of the performance itself. A key aspect of this work was to go beyond the usual visual experience and explore touch and sound interactions.

As part of this research we designed, prototyped and experimented with a range of technologies – figuring out how they can be used to be part of the narrative and overall dramatic experience. We used Arduino-based electronics including use of the Lilypad board, to enable the inclusion of eTextiles (see Technology for more details).

The research questions aimed to understand how technology could be used to augment the experience of audience members in an immersive in-the-dark theatre performance. This was captured via a post-performance evaluation with all audience members through a structured group discussion. To enable sharing and facilitate discussion, we developed an innovative, interactive, touch-based tool using eTextiles and electronics. This used zips sewn into a tablecloth to enable audience members to log their response to a question before discussions began – the position chosen on the zip was translated to a musical audio note for all to hear.

Insights from the research included the need to carefully balance audio and haptic inputs, to avoid overwhelming audiences, and how the narrative and technology worked together. For more details see the project’s report on the Digital R&D Fund’s Native website.