The Interactive Wall Kit: Smart Surfaces for Exhibits and Events
Exhibits and events are a staple of trade shows and conferences as they allow exhibitors to showcase their latest products or services, and to create a venue for visitors to network. Before coronavirus put the world on hold, exhibits and events were globally on the rise, especially in China and other developing areas. As of writing, it remains to be seen what will happen to the exhibits and event industry. The current challenge, is how to keep these occasions engaging and alluring for attendees, especially given that each passing year, a new cohort with a different level of technology sophistication participates. A report by IAEE states that “the elements of show design must evolve to engage this audience and drive their show experience and level of engagement.”
With the rise of smartphones and social media, there have been several approaches to achieve this. Gamification, apps and live streaming have already proven themselves as strong tech supplements. Gamification provides a fun way to engage users and allows attendees to engage with a company’s history and offerings in a playful way. It often goes hand in hand with apps, as they have become ubiquitous and easy to access. With more social media platforms offering live streaming services, these too have found their way into the repertoire of engaging users at exhibitions and events. In addition to these technologies, virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are seeing a lot of potential, as these are both new emerging technologies, according to Sovereign. VR, often seen as part of the gaming scene, immerses users into brand new virtual experiences, usually with the help of headsets. AR on the other hand compliments our surrounding, by overlaying it with designs and information. Many have seen AR used on their smartphone where the camera acts as a vehicle to add simulations to the user’s environment.
Another form of AR is combining projection mapping technology with interactive walls. At Bare Conductive products like our Interactive Wall Kit enable users to make surfaces smart for interactive exhibits using capacitive sensing technology. Our capacitive sensing technology allows users to create active interfaces, either through touch or proximity sensing, where the user engages with the interface to trigger an event. The most popular interaction is to create touch sensors that trigger an animation. Ever since launching the Interactive Wall Kit, many members of our community have combined our technology with their art and created an interactive exhibit or event. A growing market is in the museum, where the technology is used to create interactive displays for visitors. Engineers and designers use our capacitive sensing technology to create a multitude of different interfaces. In the case of projection mapping, they can build active interfaces, where users can consciously interact and trigger outputs from the environment. They can also create passive interfaces, those that are hidden to the user, for example, by embedding the sensing technology in the floor. This can be used to gather data from the environment, such as where people are standing, how long they are spending in certain areas, where there are bottlenecks, etc.
MIT Better World
One example of a project where our technology was used to create an interactive display was done by the designers and engineers at Two Lines Meet. For MIT’s Better World campaign, a series of global events that invites past and present alumni to come and celebrate MIT’s achievements and latest innovations, they wanted to create a space for all the alumni to engage with each other. Two Lines Meet wanted to design something that embodied the history and future of all the attendees.
Working with the client for this exhibition, Two Lines Meet identified 12 key cultural areas that encompassed the different schools of MIT. So, the starting aspect for each story needed to be an elusive opportunity, yet an enticing one, to allow the audience to be rewarded for their discovery.
They opted for a three-tiered design approach: the interaction, the illustration, and the animation through projection mapping. Clean, black illustrated lines framed the method of interaction which, when triggered, projected animations that completed each story. The physical structure needed to allow for multiple users at any one time. No instructions, just a grid of 12 relief squares – each one a unique interactive story told in a unique way.
The interactive elements ranged from RFID triggered objects, pulleys, levers, magnets, proximity and capacitive touch interfaces, allowing the attendees to play with physics and discover a unique story. For the latter two interactions, touch and proximity sensing, they used the Touch Board, which enabled them to install multiple touch points with ease. The benefit of capacitive sensing, in this case, was that it proved to be easy to integrate, yet robust enough to avoid false triggering by the wrong person. But capacitive sensors also give the designer a range of options to play with, for example, to create a proximity switch that works gradually or a rotary switch to dim the brightness.
The structure proved to be a success, as with each interaction, the audience grew, demonstrating the power that interactive technology has to engage visitors at events. MIT was impressed by the outcome and by how leveraging capacitive sensing to trigger other technologies created an interactive centerpiece for their exhibition.
Lets Create a Playable City Exhibition
Another example of creating a smart surface for an exhibit is Lets Create a Playable City Exhibition by The Urban Conga. They developed the exhibition for the City of Clearwater, FL, to engage the audience with the idea of turning a city into a playground. This way a crosswalk, laundromat, building facade, or sidewalk can become points of social interaction and bring the community together.
For the exhibit, they used the Interactive Wall Kit to create a projection mapping installation. With the Touch Board, they used touch sensing to create an interface on the wall that upon being touched, triggered a projection mapping animation. The Interactive Wall Kit allowed them to quickly prototype and develop their smart surface.
The playful smart wall was well received by the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency and was the main centerpiece of a three-week exhibition that invited the community to explore Urban Conga’s ideas. The capacitive sensing technology seamlessly transformed the walls into interfaces. At the end of the exhibition, the designers were able to simply take the installation apart and use the technology for their next exhibit.
Smart surfaces will transform exhibit and events
Bare Conductive’s smart surface technology allows users to create installations for interactive exhibits or events by embedding capacitive sensing within the environment. Our technology is designed to be both suitable for temporary or permanent installations and these installations have proven themselves to be a fun and exciting way for participants to engage and learn about products and services. However, the technology isn’t limited to individual projects. At Bare, we are working closely with leading companies in manufacturing and construction to integrate smart surfaces directly into walls and materials at scale. The goal? To create smart buildings using smart materials, so reprogrammable interaction and intelligence are built directly into the walls, floors and surfaces around us. We envision a future where there is no need to add wires and sensors to a wall to build interfaces, as the underlying functionality will be printed onto these surfaces, waiting to be programmed or activated based on the user’s specific application and goals.