An exploration into the potential of expressive and engaging robotic materials.

FRANK is an interactive material surface that senses and reacts to the user's input. By embedding sensors, magnetic actuators, and a micro-controller, it was possible to program its behavior in detail. Interacting with FRANK makes you experience a future where everyday environments will be composed of dynamic objects, intuitive interactions and stronger emotional connections between user and product.

 

 

"Materials can be considered the interface of a product." - Simone de Waart and Miguel Bruns

(from the interactive materiality course )

 

 

We understand that materials are the primary feature that allows users to perceive meaning of objects and spaces or the relation of objects to the spaces and vice-versa.

Project goal

Value

What could the behavior of material look and feel like? How would we design the interaction with such material? To answer this question, we looked into robotic materials. In short, robotic materials, a research field within the smart materials area, are composite materials that can couple sense, computation, communication, and actuation. These qualities are often embedded in the material architecture composition. FRANK, our version of a robotic material, aims to, firstly, be considered as a tool to explore future possibilities of designing interactive material behavior (how interactions design could set guidelines for materials behavior needs through the user-object interaction perspective), and secondly, creating discussion between different fields of research on the topic of robotic materials such as human-computer interaction and materials science (merging fields of research to create more meaningful smart materials).

Our hands can feel a myriad of textures, distinguish shapes or sense weight and all this defines how we as humans perceive the world. Building on this experience, this project brings a new idea into the interaction paradigm with everyday products. As we are at a turning point, where the digital becomes more physical, FRANK hopes to both inspire different communities and to enrich human-product interaction through the emotional layer of user's interaction with the material/product.

Inspiration

‘Caress of the Gaze’ by the artist and interaction designer Behnaz Farahi. In this project, Farahi created a 3D printed piece of wearable that mimics the shape changing behavior of human skin according to external stimuli, such as temperature and moisture, and emotions such as fear or excitement. However, the input that triggers the behavior of the ‘robotic textile’ is visual: the interaction with the wearable is through the user’s gaze.

'Cilllia' is a 3D printed hair-like structure from the MIT Media Lab. By 3D modeling and printing a hair-like texture, the designers were able to create structures with different properties depending on the desired function. They show the potential of this technique for creating customized surfaces, sensors and passive actuators.

Material exploration

For a week the team gather and explored several natural and artificial materials such as a variety of fruit skins, plants leaves, natural and kinetic sand, a diverse range of textiles, leathers, papers, polymers, etc.

We interact with these materials and noted all their feedback qualities. From the natural to the artificial materials, qualities such as softness, texture, rigidity, harshness, material behavior, traces of interaction, delicateness, humidity, smell, elasticity,  sound or material memory were found in the collected items for this experiment. The goal was to notice all these subtle qualities in the materials and get inspired by the way the material guided our interaction with it.

Defining FRANK's qualities

Dynamic texture

Material that is able to change its texture density in order to cause different texture feeling depending on the scenario of use.

Senses  touch

The material should be able to recognize human touch from other objects touching it.

Invites  interaction

The material could invite and engage users in the interaction process. For instance,  guiding a person on how to use/interact with the material/interface

Exporing 3D printed textures

Exploring 3D printing samples that mimic hair, grass and mushroom textures.

Prototyping FRANK

Designing FRANK's behavior

Hybrid materiality

Tangible properties

FRANK is composed of several single elements (hair), which together create a new experience. As mentioned by Parkes and Ishii: “Our experience with the tactile qualities of a material, are related to the scale of modularity at which we experience it” . To develop FRANK the same method is applied: a single hair is too soft to be perceived, but the combined effect of the single elements together defines the user experience. This creates a novel type of tactile experience for the users and with an inherent aesthetic quality that allows individuals to appreciate the many degrees of senses combined to explore the surface.

Aplication

Exposure

FRANK  was designed without a context of application in mind but more through an interaction perspective. However, we envision this robotic material to be explored in contexts of home and cars interiors. FRANK’s expressive qualities could be used to mediate between users and smart home controllers. Whereas in the interior of vehicles, FRANK could engage users in aesthetic experiences through its kinetic features, as well as have a more practical function by embracing small objects such as mobile phones and coffee thermos.

FRANK was presented at the Thirteenth International Conference on Tangible, Embedded and Embodied Interactions in Tempe, Arizona, US, as part of the Student Design Challenge and won the Award for 'Best Hybrid Material Implementation' and was also elected as 'Attendees' Choice'.

Conclusion

The emergence of new dynamic materials poses new opportunities and challenges for designers. We believe that designers together with material scientists, mechanical engineers, computer scientists, while collaborating together, will set the path for the so envisioned future of intelligent systems, expressive products and intuitive interactions. We believe that speculative projects such as FRANK contribute for practice, reflection and discussion regarding the values of robotic materials for HCI.

FRANK was developed by the students Davide Amorim, Minerva Loos, Giulia Caleca and Alex de Ruiter with a close supervision and constant feedback of the project coach Miguel Bruns and Simone de Waart.

Say hi!

d.amorim.design(at)gmail.com

2019 Davide Amorim - All rights reserved.

We interact with these materials and noted all their feedback qualities. From the natural to the artificial materials, qualities such as softness, texture, rigidity, harshness, material behavior, traces of interaction, delicateness, humidity, smell, elasticity,  sound or material memory were found in the collected items for this experiment. .