The Kit

The fundakit is a co-construction kit for designing usable computationally-enriched craft objects. It is implemented with wireless sensor networking (WSN) technologies and 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.

Designing in a Group – the Os Seis Amigos (Six Friends) Interactive:
(below left to right and top to bottom) Working on an initial idea for the interactive’s enclosures; testing the ‘start’ script by pressing all reader press-buttons at the same time; running a controlled version of the game to track down and fix a bug; setting up the interactive. The Os Seis Amigos is a wearable interactive exhibit about six animals for six users, designed by Carla, Cassandra and Raquel (2013-2015).

Using in a Group – the Os Seis Amigos (Six Friends) Interactive:
(below left to right and top to bottom) Authors introducing the interactive to users; reading an animal RFID ID badge with a reader and listening to output; repeating a question with the press-button on the reader; celebrating a win. The Os Seis Amigos is a wearable interactive exhibit about six animals for six users, designed by Carla, Cassandra and Raquel.

Building Blocks
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.

funda reader

The Funda Reader:
(above left) The Os Seis Amigos interactive, a wearable interactive exhibit for six users comprising six networked reader devices and six RFID ID badges. (above right) The funda reader. Sensor ports are located on the left of the board, along with the XBee module and its ‘associate’ indicator LED. The ID12 RFID module its ‘read’ indicator LED and the ON/OFF switch are located on the right.

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.

Adding On
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.

Combining – the O Jogo das Três Letras (The Three Letter Game) Interactive:
(below left) Internal view of the interactive’s interface, showing push-button and reed switch circuits plugged into readers. (below right) The back of the interactive’s letter playing cards, showing embedded neodymium magnets for switching the reed switches, and RFID tags. (bottom) Use demo performed by one of the authors. The O Jogo das três Letras – a spelling game designed by Afonso, Bernardo, João, Lara and Tiago (2012).

Remote Controls – the A Funda Glória Interactive:
(below left) Internal view of one of the interactive’s remote controls, showing push-button circuits plugged into the reader. (below right) The remote control in use in the interactive. The A Funda Glória – a mathematics and music game designed by Afonso, João, Lara, Luciana and Tomé (2013-2015).

Craft-Tech Switches and Sensors
(below top) Craft-tech single switch shields created with recycled cardboard, coloured vinyl, rubber band bracelets and aluminium tape. The shields have been used to transform the readers into simple remote controls for the host. (below bottom) Craft-tech force sensitive resistors with RFID capabilities, created with compressed cardboard, recycled cardboard, low-cost camping sponge, anti-static foam, Velcro and aluminium tape. Group members are adapting the conductive layers to facilitate the passage of the RFID signal through materials.

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.

Funda and Scratch:
(below top) Tag event handler script. Tag events are handled with Scratch’s when I receive () block. The funda message handled with the block states the number of the reader used to read the tag – in this example reader 107 – and the name the group have assigned to the tag – in this example hexagonoroxo_jog2; (below bottom) Script working with sensor data from six readers. Sensor data is accessed through Scratch’s () sensor value block. The funda message set in the block states the port at which the sensor is attached – in this example all sensor 2 – and the number of the reader – in this example readers 106, 107, 108, 115, 116, 117.

Inclusive Interactives
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).

Inclusive Interactive – the O Quarto da Paula (Paula’s Room):
(from top to bottom) Designing the interface surface together; using the completed interface surface to refine ideas for the interaction design and narrative content; peers using the completed interactive in the after-school centre; two of the authors with the interactive’s reader devices. The O Quarto da Paula, a treasure hunt game which aims to teach users that the important thing is to participate not win, designed by Lara, Patrícia and Jasmin (2011).

designing the interface

sketching interaction design

fundakit - using the interactive

authors with readers

* All names are pseudonyms chosen by youth.

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