by Team Six

Communication Outside the Box

Whispers is a reimagined form of interaction, designed to represent barriers to everyday communication. Through interactions with the system, users encounter obstacles that affect the clarity of messages that are being transmitted between users. Working together, users are compelled to work together to not only identify the obstacles, but avoid them altogether. However, users will quickly discover that not only is this task difficult, but almost impossible. The ambiguity of these messages aim to provoke reflection of how common misinterpretations and misunderstandings are in everyday communication in society.

There are two main components of the system, the ball and the board. The ball is the mechanism that is responsible for recording and playing messages that users send to each other. Users record their response to a prompt, and once the ball reaches another user, they can listen to this response.

The board takes the form of a portable table surface that rests on a supportive structure, where users have to pick up the board to interact with the system. Between two to four users can interact with the system at a time, as they have to pick up the board and tilt it to move the ball around. However the board features several obstacles that make the path between users difficult - additionally encountering these obstacles will affect the message in unknown ways. Furthermore, users have access to a foot pedal which will activate a barrier, providing another option to redirect the ball, but also changing the question on the screen.

Whispers is designed to be used in a collaborative space, for example an office space, providing an opportunity for coworkers to get to know each other better, improve team coordination and communication, and ultimately invoke reflection on how easily our words can be twisted and the meaning change as the message moves from person to person.

Technical Description

The physical structure of Whispers comprises of two parts, the table itself and its base. Both are built using a mix of pine timber and plywood, attached together using screws. User testing identified that a permanently attached support greatly reduced the amount of control and therefore interactivity that users would have tilting the table. The base is designed to hold the table when not in use and houses Arduino 1, which is primarily responsible for the sensors located on the foot pedals and their corresponding LEDS. When pressure is detected on these sensors, Arduino 1 sends a signal to Arduino 2, where it activates a random solenoid (barrier) on the table.

The table itself contains two other Arduinos, and features various wooden walls and obstacles that affect the ball's travel along its surface. Areas can be found on each side of the table for the ball to sit within. Along with the two Arduinos, the table contains various LEDS, solenoids (barriers) and piezo vibration sensors.

Arduino 3 is responsible for controlling a total of eight piezo vibration sensors, half of which are dedicated to wall collision, and the other four are dedicated to floor collision to detect when the ball is in a 'bad area'. Any collisions detected trigger a keypress from the laptop, resulting in various sound effects affecting the recording.

The ball is 3D printed and contains four main components: a bluetooth microphone, speaker, button and M5 stick. The speaker and microphone are responsible for playing and recording audio. The push button is connected to the M5 stick which then sends keypresses to the laptop, running shortcuts on Audacity for audio manipulation and management. If the button is pressed once, it will output “ “ (space character), playing back the currently recorded audio. If the button is pressed and held, it will output “cmd + a”, “del”, then “r” - this selects the existing audio track, deletes it and then records a new audio track in its place.

As a result of user testing and a natural iteration of the original design, we wanted to incorporate different questions into Whispers, avoiding repetition and enhancing its allure. Displaying the question somewhere on the actual table (a digital screen of some form) was considered, but due to technical constraints and its low priority/impact on the core experience this was discarded. Instead, we chose to display the question on separate screens, located next to the users participating. This was simply a powerpoint that a team member controls based on when they see the ball make contact with one of the solenoids (barriers) - simulating the feature of dynamic questions.

To avoid having to design a complex ball device capable of recording, playing and processing the audio - a bluetooth connection with a laptop running Audacity is utilised to achieve the necessary functions. The laptop is connected to the Arduinos on the table, responsible for receiving information on collisions with walls and contact made with particular surfaces. These Arduinos send keypresses to the laptop, which are mapped to shortcuts that can play and record audio recordings saved on Audacity. The laptop is also connected to bluetooth devices such as a microphone and speaker, allowing the ability for the Arduinos to impact the ball which otherwise operates completely wirelessly.