The fundakit is a co-construction kit for designing usable computationally-enriched craft objects, implemented with wireless sensor networking (WSN) technologies. It is designed specifically for groups and the design of multi-user projects. It uses a device collection approach to explicitly frame design as a collaborative process, and to facilitate concurrent access to the object under construction. The kit contains a flexible number of physically discrete computational devices (network nodes with RFID capabilities and RFID tags) connected through wireless communication. The discrete nature of the devices allows group members to take temporary ownership of parts to implement changes for the project, and wireless communication facilitates the integration of their efforts. These features also facilitate the design of projects for multiple users, who can take similar ownership of the completed project parts to use objects with others. The size of a project PAN (Personal Area Network) is defined by project needs.
The kit is especially aimed at young people. It provides them with the tools to design their own interactive artefacts and environments around locally-relevant themes in local languages, and develop new skills and understanding through the design process. In a typical funda co-construction process (external and internal) groups explore ideas and resolve problems related to concept development, interaction design, narrative writing and recording, programming, physical construction, electronics, wireless networking and aesthetics. Projects can include table-top games, interactive story mats, and networked wearable exhibits.
The primary building blocks of the wireless sensor system are the funda readers. They constitute the nodes in each project PAN. A reader fits in the palm of a child’s hand, runs on three AAA batteries, has an ID12 module for the radio frequency identification (RFID), an XBee module for the wireless communication, and three analogue/digital input ports for attaching sensors. Mini-jack sockets are used for the sensor ports to ensure robust connections which can withstand real use, and batteries can be recharged with a standard AA/AAA charger. The device can be customised into any number of more personalised forms by wrapping it in craft materials or embedding it in craft objects, and can be static or mobile. Multiple readers can be embedded in a single craft object to imbue it with greater functionality. Reader data is received on the host by a standard XBee-to-USB connector. The host runs the project software and performs all data processing.
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification)
The other device type included in the fundakit is the RFID tag. Tags can be applied to or incorporated into objects to provide them with electronic identities, and do not have to be visible to communicate with the reader. Passive tags (the type included in the kit) have the added advantage of being powered by energy contained in the reader’s requesting wave, so they do not require batteries. Readers read tags with the EM4001 or compatible format. Tags can be read through most materials, and the read range is ~12cm. Tags vary in both size and form, and are primarily designed to track and identify animate and inanimate objects in active use or movement. As such, they are usually designed with discrete, robust and combinatorial affordances, which are ideal for usable computational-crafts projects designed with recycled and other craft materials.
Reader functionality can be extended by attaching sensors (variable resistors) and switches to the three analog/digital input ports. Users can combine RFID with light, force, tilt, flex, sound or other sensing, or bypass it and build wireless sensor networks with multiple readers gathering data from the environment. Push-button switches can also be attached to readers to create simple remote controls. Making one’s own sensors and switches can be a good way to learn more about these components, achieve richer integration of the craft and computational aspects of a project, and create more expressive technology.
The fundakit is programmed with Scratch. Scratch is a visual programming language and environment which enables young people to learn computer programming through the design of personally meaningful media-rich projects. Users construct their programmes by snapping together brightly-coloured command blocks in a puzzle-like fashion, and block shapes prevent syntax errors. Scratch 1.4, the version used with the fundakit, has 125 commands. One can create a surprisingly diverse range of projects with this purposely limited command set. Scratch builds on the constructionist ideas of Logo. It is free, available in over fifty languages, has desktop and online versions, and runs on Linux, Mac and Windows. It was designed by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at MIT and originally intended for use in after-school centres. It is currently widely in use, in both informal and formal learning contexts.
The interactive’s Scratch project is run in tandem with a partner funda middleware project on the host computer. The host receives sensor data and tag read events from the remote composite interface via the XBee coordinator. This data is translated into more readable and recognizable user-defined messages and formatted according to the Scratch Extension Protocol by the middleware, and then sent on to Scratch. Groups author their Scratch programmes to respond to this input. Tag read events are received as broadcast messages, and sensor data as sensor-update messages. Users handle the tag read events with Scratch’s when I receive () block, and access remote sensor data through the () sensor value block. They combine these two ‘funda-related’ Scratch blocks with the other Scratch blocks in the normal manner to author their programmes.
We are developing the idea of the inclusive interactive as an approach for working with the fundakit in under-resourced communities. The concept extends Simon’s idea of the relational social object – a museum exhibit which invites interpersonal use and facilitates sharing and exchange – by involving groups of youth in informal and formal learning contexts in the design of their own craft-tech versions of these objects for the institution and surrounding community. The content of the interactive is related to youths’ interests and topics they deem important for their community, and structured around some form of game or playful challenge. The interactives are designed to be fully usable, transportable, storable and sustainable, and can be shared with members of the broader community in settings such as schools, community centres, hospitals, crèches, etc. Inclusion is pursued along to two intertwined paths. Firstly, the activity is shaped to promote broad participation across the various interests and skills found in the youth community. Secondly, the design and use processes are structured in ways which leverage participant diversity to advance social and digital inclusion. The shared external model provides groups (designers and users) with a context in which to co-construct shared mental models, and the ongoing stretching of common understanding to fit with new perspectives in the shared endeavour promotes learning and development.
We see inclusive interactives as a way to spread museological ideas and practices into communities with limited access to playful informal learning institutions, and a way to adapt these ideas and practices to address local needs and opportunities. In this view, youth are both designers and users of new interactive learning forms. Our thinking is influenced by Eisenberg et al.’s groundbreaking homespun museum concept (2005).
* All names are pseudonyms chosen by youth.