After a semester at ITP, I’ve found that one of the most popular themes is synesthesia. Students like to use technology to translate colors into sound, words into images, light into motion, etc.. All of the projects I’ve worked on in Physical Computing do this on one level or another—the very act of converting data into electricity is a sort of synesthesia.
For my final project, I’ve reformatted Twitter as a radio. It’s called Magpi Radio:
I had two objectives for my final project. First, I wanted to create a physical manifestation of a piece of software. I’ve been interested in this idea since the original iPod was released—it was the first time I considered an electronic device as a meatspace expression of software. iTunes and iPod were two interfaces to the same content. I chose Twitter as the software because there’s an endless amount of content and it’s a robust platform that makes two-way communication very easy.
Second, I wanted to think of this project through the lens of product design. How could I piggyback on the user’s understanding of existing interfaces to make it’s function obvious? I chose the radio metaphor for this reason. One knob is power/volume, and the other knob is the channel. More complex use-cases (like content organization and settings) can be handled through Twitter, which allows the behavior to be extensible.
A quick overview of what it does; Magpi Radio uses text-to-speech to read tweets coming in from various channels. Volume and power are controlled by the knob on the left. Channels can be selected by turning the knob on the right. As you click through channels, the beak changes color so you have a “glanceable” indication of it’s state. Pressing the knob on the right will favorite the last tweet, indicated by a red pulsing beak.
There are two kinds of channels; lists and streams. Lists use the REST API to read tweets from lists that have been created on the @magpiradio account. For example, “News,” “Humor,” and “Weird.” Streams read tweets in real-time that are filtered by criteria. The “Nearby” channel reads tweets that have been geo-tagged in your immediate vicinity, like a social police-scanner. The “@magpiradio” channel reads tweets sent to the radio, and the “Requests” channel pivots based on search terms that you send the radio.
Magpi Radio is enclosed in a Crate & Barrel bowl that’s received some love from the wood shop. The beak is made from a diffuse silicon sheet that I found attached to an ice-cube tray. This diagram describes the electronics that do the heavy lifting:
I’ve added details about the process and code in another post.