Nature, technology and well-being: New funding awarded for rocking chair

Although the official timeline and AHRC funding for Tangible Memories has now drawn to a close, many of the team are still busy working with our Story Creator app in care homes, sharing our research through conferences and publications, and applying for funding to progress our work with older people, well-being and technology.

We are thrilled to share news that we have been awarded funding from University of Bristol’s Brigstow Institute to develop the Soundscape rocking chair and explore the use of technology in bringing the benefits of nature into healthcare settings.

For this phase of the project, we are really excited to be partnering with the BBC Natural History Unit to use their wildlife archives, and co-designing our prototypes with Brunelcare, the Teenage Cancer Trust and University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust.  

Some of the research questions that we will be asking include:
Can technology and/or nature enhance well-being while a person, relative or carer is in hospital, visiting hospital, or in long-term care? If so, how?
What are the differences between experience of real world nature and a digitally mediated experience of nature? Which is more beneficial in a healthcare setting?
What sound would you miss, if you could no longer hear it? 

Our partners: 
BBC Natural History Unit
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Robots, research & rocking chairs: Computer-Human Interaction conference 2016

‘CHI’ Computer-Human Interaction conference, San Jose, California: 7th – 12th May 2016

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The annual CHI conference (pronounced ‘kai’) for Computer Human Interaction describes itself as ‘a place to see, discuss and learn about the future of how people interact with technology’. So on journeying to fabled Silicon Valley for my first experience of CHI and of San Jose California, I half-expected to be greeted by robots on arrival. As it turned out, I was not to be disappointed…

The theme of CHI 2016 focused on using ‘technology for good’, which resonated with my key reason for attending this year’s event. Over the past couple of years, I have been part of this collaborative research project called Tangible Memories, which has developed creative technologies to benefit older people in care. One of these technologies has included an interactive rocking chair for older people with advanced dementia, and who are not often able to go outdoors. The chair plays soothing nature sounds, such as the dawn chorus or crickets singing on a summer’s evening, through speakers embedded in its headrest.

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The sound content is triggered simply by the rocking motion of the chair; stop rocking and the sound softly dies away. Our aim was to design an intuitive interaction that did not require learning (or remembering) while providing an experience that was both calming, particularly for those with anxiety, and which could potentially enhance the well-being of the individual, by the soothing rocking motion and by rekindling the imagination through evocative soundscapes.

My colleagues and I had co-written a work-in-progress paper about this prototype and its test sessions that had been accepted into CHI 2016, so offering us the chance to share our research in person, with a specialist network of about three thousand conference delegates from all over the world. The opportunity represented a new prospect for my artistic practice, as well as occasion to receive valuable feedback on our concept, so I was delighted to be awarded a travel bursary from a-n The Artist Information Company in order to attend CHI 2016 as a freelance collaborator on this project, and to be able to accompany my colleagues from the University of Bristol Computer Science department.

Alongside two days of the conference where we presented our rocking chair research, there was a huge amount on offer throughout the conference programme. I enjoyed a group tour of Stanford University Design School in Palo Alto, and took part in a brilliant prototyping workshop hosted by a member of the School’s teaching staff there.

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This Open House event was also showcasing a number of Stanford’s collaborative projects through posters and demonstrations, which proved very intriguing and thought-provoking. Some teams were hypothesizing about the future, such as our increasingly close (even emotional) relationship with robots and drones, while others were in the process of developing new creative tools for education or entertainment.

Back in the San Jose Convention Center, I attended a Special Interest Group discussion that was reflecting on a variety of different approaches to the theme, ‘Technology for disabled and older people’. There was some acknowledgment of the importance of social interaction and the need to address well-being for people in this defined group, although more generally, it seemed as if the computer science sector tends to focus on designing assistive technologies in support of people’s physical needs, without the same degree of attention given to their emotional or mental health.

Speaking of assistive technologies, this was my first experience of an event where a group of robots casually roamed around the convention center, acting as mobile conduits for remotely-based conference delegates. Here are some of the robot delegates meeting for a chat, while recharging their batteries:

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Amid all the ultra hi-tech on display throughout the conference, and profound questions being asked about the impact of ubiquitous artificial intelligence on human society, it was somehow reassuring to see how much the robots had to rely on human help for basic tasks like pressing the button to call the lift, navigating narrow doorways and identifying which seminar room was showing the presentation that they were interested in attending. I found myself feeling rather affectionate towards them on account of their robotic clumsiness.

On the whole, the dense conference programme of formal paper presentations was mostly dominated by highly technical and academic computer science research, far exceeding my non-expert understanding. However there were two stand-out presentations in particular, that were much less abstruse to the lay delegate (but no less rigorous) and completely absorbing. The first was a scenario, brilliantly presented by Joseph Lindley from LICA at Lancaster University, about pushing the limits of design fiction, where he made a compelling case for fictional research papers. The second highlight paper for me was titled, ‘I don’t want to wear a screen’: Probing Perceptions of and Possibilities for Dynamic Displays on Clothing. This presentation shared the extensive research collaboration between UC Berkeley and Google Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP). Together these two organisations have developed interactive digital textiles using conductive jacquard thread coated in thermochromic paints. Once made into garments, these dynamic textiles enable the wearer to send subtle social biosignals, or simply enjoy a versatile design.

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After five days of intense note-taking, discussion and mind-boggling thought about the seemingly infinite possibilities of technology, I found some artistic solace in the cool, reflective space of the San Jose Museum of Art, and in a chance meeting with another artist.

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Back in 2012, in Glasgow, I had met a San Francisco-based sculptor called Heidi Wastweet at an arts conference, and greatly admired her work. When I knew I would be visiting San Jose, I had contacted Heidi to see if she could work her schedule for a catch up while I was in the area. Thanks to the capabilities of Facebook technology (computer-human interaction at work) we met in person, via another conference, after four years, to talk patination and letter-carving techniques over lunch and then made a visit to the art and photography exhibitions in the Museum.

Following this delightfully serendipitous afternoon, I headed off to San Jose station where I boarded a double-decker Amtrak train bound for Van Nuys in Los Angeles. My return flight was out of LAX, so I had arranged to visit and stay with some friends who live in LA for a few days, before heading home.

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During the ten hour scenic journey, I decided to pay homage to historic British/Californian local, Eadweard Muybridge, and his pioneering work using sequential photographs to create a sense of movement; the earliest form of moving image produced from stop-motion animation. So here is the day-long train ride photographed and condensed into a very basic silent ‘movie’, lasting all of 54 seconds: San Jose to Van Nuys by Amtrak

What a vast and varied landscape! The epic sweep of California can only begin to be appreciated by opting for slower forms of transport. The journey also provided a great opportunity to assimilate the conference experience and step out of my full immersion into the encoded world of computer science.

Embracing my comfort zone once more, I relished a visit to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see a great range of sculptural work including Chris Burden’s Metropolis and Robert Irwin’s Miracle Mile, both particularly well situated against the backdrop of LA culture.

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A quiet but somehow moving exhibition of Agnes Martin’s work marked a new artistic discovery for me, and I was drawn to her concentrated abstract lines and muted coloured canvases.

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Martin believed that it was spiritual inspiration and not intellect that created great work. ‘Without awareness of beauty, innocence and happiness’ Martin wrote, ‘one cannot make works of art’.

I planned to keep this profoundly sensitive, uplifting and outward-looking artistic approach in mind, on my return to England, when I would be continuing to develop the nature sounds rocking chair for older people with dementia, with a focus on providing a sense of well-being through the beauty of nature.

As coincidence would have it, just around the corner from where I was staying with friends, in District La Brea, I happened upon the only known rocking chair store in Southern California.

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The manager was a very friendly local lady who invited me to browse and try out the different types of rocking chairs, despite my inability to purchase anything and ship it back to the UK. I told her about our project and she kindly allowed me to take some photos, including a shot of the back room, where some of the stock had to hang from the walls in order to fit in.

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A framed poster proudly suggested presidential endorsement of the humble rocking chair.

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As I enjoyed the soothing comfort of one of the many rockers in the shop, I noticed how serene JFK looks in this image, and thought about how difficult it seemed somehow, to feel stressed in a rocking chair. These are pieces of furniture designed for unhurried relaxation, for contemplation perhaps, provided by the rhythmic calming motion that was gently tilting me back and forth. As my mind started to wander, I began to look forward to developing new ideas around well-being for our nature sounds rocking chair back in the UK, and felt creatively fortified by the experience of this entire trip, that has provided me with an huge amount of inspiration for many months to come.

 

Rocking Chair paper accepted for CHI 2016

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The Tangible Memories team were delighted to hear that their extended abstract ‘Rekindling Imagination in Dementia Care with the Resonant Interface Rocking Chair’ has been accepted for CHI 2016 conference. This annual gathering of the world’s Computer-Human Interaction community will take place in San Jose, California, and focus on the theme of ‘technology for good’. Project team members Pete Bennett and Heidi Hinder are looking forward to presenting their research in May. Meanwhile, you can read more about CHI 2016 here:  CHI conference 2016.

Grand Opening of the first Parlour of Wonder

A few photos from the Parlour of Wonder opening at Blaise Weston yesterday. This was a fantastic event to celebrate the opening of the ‘Memory Parlour’ at Blaise Weston Court. We are currently developing this idea and calling it a ‘Parlour of Wonder’.

Community engagement is increasingly recognised by the care sector and social care commissioners as vital in tackling issues of social isolation in our older populations living in care. Together with Alive! and our partners in care settings we want to co-design engaging community spaces (parlours) where older people can interact with evocative objects and the StoryCreator app and our other prototypes to record and share their memories and life histories. This will involve imagining and creating a new space of discovery, connection, meaning making and mystery, rather like the ‘cabinets of curiosity’ or ‘wonder rooms’ of old. Unlike cabinets of curiosity, our ‘Parlours of Wonder’ will not be designed and curated by us as arts and humanities researchers, artists and computer scientists. Our vision is that these technology enhanced spaces will be co-curated by and for residents, care staff, families and community members. Care managers who have been involved in the TMP project believe there is huge potential to use these Parlours of Wonder for community engagement where local school children, community groups and isolated older people will be encouraged to enjoy a cup of tea and a chat or a more formal encounter, sparking questions, connections, new interests or opportunities for contemplation.

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Quilting: Cradle to Grave

Last week Helen presented at a seminar at the University of Bristol organised by the fantastic Ann Rippin who collaborated with us as a member of Bristol quilters in organising interactive cushion production at our conference. Ann is an academic in Management Studies who works closely with the Bristol Quilters on a number of projects. Ann has Mary Beth Stalp  visiting as a Benjamin Meaker Fellow who has worked extensively with quilters  in the US.  The seminar last week was a great opportunity to talk about Tangible Memories to a different audience and the other presentations really gave us food for thought, especially in relation to taking the project forward using textiles and quilting.

Ann blogged about the event so for those interested do read below – and if you’re really interested do visit Ann’s blog in which she talks about all kinds of fascinating events.

Ann’s blog post: Quilting Cradle to Grave

The day started with a great presentation from Tom Keating who is a PhD student in Geographical Studies at the University of Bristol.  He was talking about the work of Josh Barnes, who is working on putting together technology and textiles for children in hospital.  The technology will enable children to get video messages from their parents while they are in the ward so that they can keep in touch.  They do this by scanning a code on the quilt and seeing the message on an iPad or iPhone (other smart technologies are available).  I thought, as he was talking, that this links with academic writings on portraiture, that they allow the absent other to be present – so a monarch can be present in 2D form in any part of the kingdom or empire, and this helps to maintain presence and thus control over the subjects.  Hence, as Simon Sharma was telling us on tv last week, there are so many standardised and ritualised portraits of Elizabeth I.

This departure was interesting because it allows children to play and move around, and gives them the comfort of the quilted textile.  It is active because children are playing with it, and passive because it remains a watching and listening activity.  What was so great was that Tom was dealing with high-end, difficult theoretical work but adapted it really well to an audience of non-specialists on Deleuze and Guattari.  I think he also loved meeting quilters who gave him the kind of fearless critique of his work that only women of a certain age can give, but which was constructive and positive and helped him think through some of his ideas on making.

Next up was our very own Val Dixon from Bristol Quilters who talked about the work that the group does providing quilts for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Southmead Hospital in Bristol.  We make tiny, light and bright quilts for premature babies and fabric covers for the incubators.  Val said that we had made 200 a year for ten years, and as we saw at the group’s AGM later on in the day, there are still plenty more to come.  Every baby gets a quilt and regardless of whether they survive or not, parents get to keep the quilt.  I was interested with my academic hat on about the uses that the incubator covers have.  They are backed with dark fabric to protect prem babies’ eyes, and they make the room much less stressful for the mothers, but they also have what is described as user-determined uses.  They are used as playmats when the babies go home, and also as physiotherapy mats as some of the babies require so much care.  What came across to me from Val’s excellent presentation was that the quilts are as much a gift to the mothers as to the babies, and, to use the academic jargon, that are very tangible actors in an economy of care.  These are the very first possessions of these tiny babies, and although they are sometimes buried with them, the quilts are always theirs.

Marybeth came next and talked about quilts as life bookmarks.  They keep the pages on our special life events and memories.  Although most quilt scholarship is about the objects themselves and their histories, Marybeth is interested in the living, talking makers and the circumstances which we think are special enough to make quilts to mark.  She is sometimes controversial in her claim that ‘Quilting causes tension in the home’, but she has found that when older women take up quilting or when a woman has plenty of domestic obligations and duties, the time and space the hobby requires can cause tension.  This is along the lines of, ‘I know you are making a family heirloom which will last generations, but where’s my dinner?’  She showed us something of the shadowy side of quilting with a fundraiser quilt for the KluKluxKlan, and some break-up and divorce quilts.  We also had a look at the cartoony ‘The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue’ which is a piece in which in every panel poor old Sue is killed in another fiendish way.  Marybeth showed pieces from her own history and career, and introduced me to a new idea: a Solomon’s quilt, which is where when someone in the family dies one of their quilts is cut up and made into another set of smaller quilts and given as a keepsake to their relatives.

I then showed some examples of ersatz memorial quilts that I have made to demonstrate my latest talk, oh, and my wedding quilt, made for me and the Medieval Historian by my mother.

Finally, the wonderful Helen Manchester talked to us about her work at the other extreme from the babies, the very elderly and end of life people in care homes.  This is part of a project to look at enhancing their experiences and helping them to capture their memories and it includes textiles as they can be such a source of comfort.  So the lovely thing about this is that it might finally prove a way into inter-generational work as young people are very familiar (usually) with the technology such as smart phones and the older generations have an existing creative repertoire of quilting, stitching, knitting and so on, which can come together to form talking cushions and so on.  Helen described her project as thinking about moving from physical care into relational care through textiles, and building a community through stories about coping with loss.  I love Helen’s project because it is so imaginative and helps me to feel a bit less terrified of a lonely and isolated old age.  It is full of optimism and I love the fact that the quilts are part of that.

 

Tangible Memories at Digital Design Weekend

AHRC Press Release!

AHRC Research Showcased at V&A’s Digital Design Weekend

Research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) will feature at this year’s V&A Digital Design Weekend.

The Digital Design weekend, Saturday 26 September 2015 and Sunday 27 September 2015, is a series of special events celebrating contemporary digital art and design, including interactive installations, demonstrations of robotics, tinkering and inventive electronics, workshops, family activities and more.

The Digital Design Weekend coincides with the London Design Festival at the V&A (19 – 27 September 2015). The London Design Festival is a nine day festival of contemporary design that celebrates London as the creative capital of the world.

Five research projects, funded by the AHRC will feature at the event including Tangible Memories, a project led by Helen Manchester at the University of Bristol. The project has been co-designing novel technologies to enable staff, families and residents at care homes across Bristol to record and share stories and to engage residents in multisensory experiences. The aim of the project is to enhance the quality of life of residents in care settings and encourage social and creative activities. You can watch an AHRC film about the Tangible Memories project here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8e7S9fBJvOg

All the AHRC projects that are being showcased at the event are funded under the AHRC’s Capital Call which sought explore the creative capacities of communities. The call, from 2013, aimed to harness the transformative power of digital technologies to stimulate innovative engagements and research co-production between communities and researchers.

The other AHRC-funded projects which will be showcased during the V&A Digital Design Weekend are:

Explorations in open access community storytelling and the digital archive.  

Multimedia artwork developed during a series of interventions with leading digital artists from across Latin America who engage with cityscapes.

 

A drawing robot reproduces margin notes from the Bloodaxe Archive of contemporary poetry.

 

Untold stories of the people who lived and worked in former industrial buildings in the East Midlands: Leicester’s Cultural Quarter and Glossop, a mill town in North Derbyshire.

A publication supported by AHRC and including contributions from participating artists, designers and scientists will be distributed free during the event.

Most events at the Digital Design Weekend are free and drop-in, and available on a first come, first served basis. For more information and to view a full programme please visit: http://www.vam.ac.uk/whatson/event/5566/digital-design-weekend-2015-1302807124/

For further information from the AHRC, please contact Danielle Moore-Chick on 01793 41 6021 or d.moore-chick@ahrc.ac.uk

Notes for editors

  • The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: ancient history, modern dance, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, English literature, design, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98m to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits but also contributes to the economic success of the UK. ahrc.ac.uk