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Ad-Hoc Networks: UMBRELLA.net

We’ve been brainstorming ideas for the Maker Challenge that will an important part of our workshop. Many of the technologies we’ve started to dream up are particularly focused on the dynamics and dichotomies of power that we might be able to tinker with: How can crowds use a simple device to augment their collective action? How might we hack a technology to wedge into the perceived top-down authority of control? In general, we might be interested in the borders between the many transnational players involved in how new technologies can perform a new role in an increasingly mobile world.

This all got me thinking about ad-hoc networks, which, generally, can be described as networks that form and disappear depending on crowd formation and the collective experiences of people in public and urban space. A great example is a project called “UMBRELLA.net,” the brainchild of Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Katherine Moriwaki, Ken Greene, Linda Doyle, Stephen Hughes, and Ronan Coyle . Even though the project was exhibited as an art installation in the UK and Austria, it’s worth thinking closely about how we might turn the basic idea into something simple and hackable to use in a more functional, daily role.

Here is the background for the project:

UMBRELLA.net uses ad-hoc networking as a means to connect people who share the same physical space and who might engage in similar, yet individual activities. Since ad-hoc systems exist as networks that can spontaneously form and dissipate based on the amount of clients present, they are a perfect testing bed for examining how new relationships can form based on proximity and chance conditions. “Coincidence of need” can be defined as seemingly individual activities that are also common experiences based on factors beyond the individual’s immediate control. In the case of UMBRELLA.net, this is the act of opening one’s umbrella when rain begins to fall: an individual action spurned by an environmental effect that is part of a collective social network. Therefore UMBRELLA.net attempts to discover how coincidence of need provides the context for looking at co-location of individuals and how this need could lead to new types of connections amongst strangers or friends in public space.