The fundakit is a wireless sensor network construction kit for designing tangible interfaces for Scratch programmes. It is especially aimed at young people, providing them with the tools to create their own interactive artefacts and environments and construct knowledge through the development process. In a typical funda project development process users explore ideas and resolve problems related to interaction design, narrative writing and narration, programming, physical construction, electronics and aesthetics.
The kit allows users to bridge the abstract world of computer code with the touchable world of physical objects and explore novel craft-computation combinations away from the computer. Projects can include table-top learning games, interactive story mats, wearable interfaces, old toys with new behaviour and educational exhibits.
The two primary building blocks of the wireless sensor system are the funda Reader, a hand-held scale device running on 3 AAA batteries, and the funda Listener, an off-the-shelf XBee-to-USB connector. Readers have an ID12 module for Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), a XBee module (Series 1 or 2) for the wireless communication, and three analogue/digital input ports for attaching sensors. Readers can be customized into any number of more personalized forms by wrapping them in craft materials or embedding them in other artefacts, and can function as static or mobile devices. The Listener is plugged into the host computer running the project software, where it is used to receive data broadcast by the Reader/s. A Listener can listen to several Readers at once and determine the origin of the incoming data, thereby paving the way for multi-Reader projects — especially games.
Radio Frequency Identification
The basic funda Reader functions as a wireless RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) reader. RFID is traditionally associated with large-scale public applications, such as ticketing on public transport networks, supermarket supply chain management and self-service checkout in libraries. In recent years it has also been used in a growing number of playful, learning and expressive applications, such as museum exhibits, educational research projects, art works and toys. The technology uses radio waves to transfer data from an electronic tag, through a reader, to a host computer system for identification purposes. Most tags are made up of an integrated circuit for storing and processing data and an antenna for receiving and transmitting a signal. 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 have the added advantage of being powered by energy contained in the reader’s requesting wave, meaning they do not require batteries. RFID’s discrete, robust and combinatorial affordances make it an ideal technology for exploring new kinds of expressive interfaces with physical and digital media.
Readers can be extended by attaching sensors (variable resistors) and switches to the 3 analog/digital input ports. One can combine the RFID with light, force, tilt, flex, sound or other sensing, or bypass it and build wireless sensor networks with multiple Readers gathering data about the environment. Pressbutton 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 the Scratch programming language. Scratch is an educational programming language that allows people of any experience, background and age to experiment with the concepts of fully versatile computer programming by snapping together visual programming blocks to control images, music and sound. It is developed by the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, and first appeared in the summer of 2007. Scratch can be installed and freely redistributed on any Windows, Mac OS X or Linux computer. It is available in over 40 languages and has been successfully used in a wide range of learning contexts.
The 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 funda project via the Listener. This data is translated into more readable and recognizable messages and formatted according to the Scratch Extension Protocol by the middleware and then sent on to Scratch. fundakit users author their Scratch programmes to respond to this input.
Collaboration and sharing lie at the heart of the fundakit: the kit is normally used by small groups of users to collaboratively design usable interactive artefacts which can be shared with others. The external and physical nature of work-in-progress artefacts and environments enable kit users to share and build knowledge through their evolving project, while the social and shareable nature of completed artefacts enable project users to engage in new kinds of collaborative playing and learning activities.
The word funda
funda is the isiXhosa word for ‘read’ and ‘learn’. isiXhosa (or Xhosa) is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages and is spoken by the amaXhosa people. It is the country’s second largest home language and the mother tongue of two of South Africa’s four Nobel Peace Prize winners: Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.
Meaning is established through the context in which the word is used:
uNomathemba uyathanda ukufunda iincwadi. – Nomathemba likes to read books.
uFernanda uyafunda isiXhosa namhlanje. – Fernanda is learning isiXhosa today.
* All names used are pseudonyms.