Day 2 in Budapest started with quick fire pragmatism at FabLab. Although we had four great ideas at the end of yesterday, the group decided that we might be able tackle the concepts that interest us the most without spreading our resources too thin. After paring down a bit, we locked in on two main projects, with an eye towards collaboration in the coming days:
1) Silenced Voices
In keeping with creating projects will be easily reproduced and modified, a group decided to hone in on a radio-disrupting device that would be assembled inexpensively and simply. There are two different devices as the basic idea. One is a small box that can record and then play back a message (or song, noise, etc), on a delayed timer. The other device uses an FM radio transmitter to take over radio receivers within a short range tuned to a certain frequency. Imagine recording your own slogan and leaving it in a public space to be heard on repeat. Or, using a device to co-opt a radio signal within a few hundred meters and play your own songs. This latter project also borrows from the need for low-powered FM radio communities in many parts of the world. Groups can come together to broadcast their own kind of programming and taking advantage of the role that FM radio plays in public and private life.
2) Ceci N’est Pas Une Porte
The second group decided to pair a conceptual foundation with a highly functional project that seeks to reinvent the door. On the conceptual side, we are interested in how doors can function as both barriers and invitations, building on Latour’s ideas about the dynamics of power that exist in our daily relationships with doors. On the practical side, we’re looking to create a door that can lock, unlock, open, close, and interact with its “master” using radio frequencies. It will also be connected to the Internet, where it can post status updates on various social media. In this way, the door develops a personality, one that is mean (requires a password to enter, closes when it senses movement, or locks when it detects an RFID tag) or one that is helpful (unlocks when it detects you are near, plays a message as you enter, posts a Twitter update as you come home). In the words of American comedian Milton Berle, “ If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.
Today’s work showcased a few interesting characteristics of hacker/DIY/maker culture. The door project team split up into a few subgroups, some working on the software needed to make the door function and one working on building the door itself. Professional software developers often ask themselves why building software seems so much more difficult than building more tangible objects. But as the software teams started the seemingly endless work of debugging their code, the hardware team faced problems with lack of materials and unforeseen design challenges. We saw today that time bends around maker culture for hardware and software teams alike: without having a tried and true method, it becomes increasingly difficult to estimate how many kinks with appear, how long it will take to fix each one, or even how to go about it.
Yet this is the challenge that unites the workshop participants, for creating something truly unique demands a kind of pleasurable frustration born of the ups and downs of hard work. As much as we might want to see our new technologies used and reproduced after we leave Budapest, we hope to also export the entrepreneurial maker ethic that values spontaneous, creative, border-crossing thinking.
A continued chorus of joyous cries of breakthrough will surely be heard tomorrow as the groups inch closer to completing and polishing their prototypes. The next challenge will be to think across the two projects: How might a radio-disrupting device interact with an “intelligent” door?