Digital Economy USRG

Making the Digital Physical

December 14, 2012
by Javier Pereda

On the 10th of December, I was invited to attend to an event in Manchester organised by Lancaster CX Lab called ‘Making the Digital Physical’. CX short for Creative Exchange is a research group focused on the transformation of digital to physical and how is it presented in the public space.

The purpose of this event was to collaborate in a workshop trying to come up with new ways of making the digital into physical. The workshop involved several academics from universities such as Newcastle University, Dundee University, Anglia Ruskin and University of Southampton. It also included industry members such as BBC R&D, Madlab, Makie Lab and Matmi among others. Many members from the CX Lab were also involved.

During the workshop, we were given a presentation introducing some Tangible User Interfaces (TUI), to evidence previous work and produce some ideas. Some of the previous projects included: Virtual Gravity, Siftables, Necomimi, Immaterials, Information Shadows, 3D Photo Booth and the Skylanders video game. There are many research and commercial project where physicality plays a big role. As a Web Scientist, my research interest is directly related on the transition from Web to physical and the different factors that influence this transition.

We brought several objects that intended to represent this connection in between digital and physical. For example, I brought some silly putty. By changing the properties of silly putty, we can change its conductivity and therefore use it as a electronic device. It’s affordance then becomes directly related to the software. There were many objects and visions of how these object could be used or researched. Here is a list of some of them:

An onion Used to present layers of information
Blood test kit Transfer of bio-data to digital
The Rape of Proserpina Digital and physical representation of emotions
Cookie Representation of digital cookies
Feather Transfer of feeling. What feels good?


Figure 1. Objects brought to workshop


After presenting some of the objects and the several research areas that this could rise, we proceeded to analyse in how many ways that area could be researched. The group I was working with chosen representing emotion. This idea was risen from the Rape of Proserpina.

After debating several ideas, we came up with two ‘prototypes’ that could open some research paths:

The Self Shelf

Figure 2. The Self Shelf

When we connect to technology, it does not reflect how we really feel. Moreover, we present different identities when we are connected. Different personalities are developed depending on the social group that we engage with. The idea behind was to build a shelf that contained self-adaptive objects that re-shaped themselves according to our mood. On the other hand, the objects could also re-shape according to the social group member that was visiting on that day, presenting the correct or desired personality on the shelf.

Physical Playlists

Figure 3. The Physical Playlist

The second prototype was a object printer that embedded music into the objects. This allowed creating physical playlists. It was mentioned that when people used to make mix-tapes, they embedded their feelings on the creation of it. This idea aims to emulate that feeling that gets printed. This way the set of objects can be given away as a gift that contains emotions.

There were many other ideas where different members proposed how to engage with physical data. For example visualising human energy or scanning memories. All these projects aimed to engage with understanding markets, enabling technology and developing user profiles. Ideally, these projects could be inserted within a business model.

This was a very interesting experience where people from different backgrounds proposed various outputs and research opportunities.

We used the exercise to develop a creative proposal where different research and industry challenges were raised. In this case I put myself as head of one of the projects and proposed some areas and specific team members from different universities including University of Southampton and Lancaster University and commercial companies that can be able to collaborate. CX Lab then analyses the different proposals provided by the different teams and individuals and selects three or four projects. Once the projects have been selected, CX Lab funds those projects for the determined time and the selected team members to be able to fulfil that proposal. These type of workshops provide a good environment for collaboration and exchange of ideas, especially ideas that can be put forward for research and industry projects.

Categories: Blog. Tags: CX Lab, digital physical, HCI, and TUI.