Fabrication: Laser Cutting
an interactive public fountain experience that passerby can personalize
What is the future of public spaces?
Our task was to find a 5 feet by 5 feet area around the UC Berkeley campus and design an interactive experience in that public space. We ultimately chose Kroeber Fountain on the UC Berkeley campus and designed and implemented a personalized fountain experience.
We accomplished this feat by creating an Android application that gives people the ability to create a fountain show that reflects their personal preferences; a person can select his or her preferred color, height, and frequency (i.e., number of bursts per short interval of time). When these people pass by the fountain again, the fountain will recognize their bluetooth signal as they come into range and activate their previous fountain settings. We are enabling individuals to exercise control over a public space for at least a brief moment and to feel a sense of belonging. “Kroebe" is the fountain that recognizes and remembers you.
We are envisioning future interactions between people and public fountains.
I was in charge of designing and laser cutting the encasing for our fountain and coded part of the accompanying Android application. I was also involved in the research and brainstorming phases of the project. Our project was featured at the 2014 Maker Faire in the Bay Area.
As we spent time observing our site, we found that it was a highly trafficked area. We observed a wide range of activities taking place in the vicinity of the fountain. The fountain is often used as a meeting point for people and clubs. Even so, we also observed many people sitting on the fountain alone. The fountain is in close proximity to the intersection of Bancroft Way and College Avenue, a place where food trucks park daily, turning the fountain into a place to sit and eat.
Our interviews revealed that even though some people may not interact with the fountain directly, they still recognize and acknowledge its presence. Interviewees frequently talked about the fountain in terms of a landmark they pass by on their way to class. This piece of information helped shape the future outcome of our project as being something that people could interact with without having to stop and linger at the fountain; a person could experience a transient interaction with the fountain as he walked past it on the way to his final destination.
Hundreds of people walk by Kroeber Fountain, yet the fountain does nothing to acknowledge their presence.
After selecting Kroeber Fountain as our location of interest, we began to notice that it was a place at which people would congregate without interacting with one another. The fountain’s shape - most notably, its tiered steps - affords it the ability to serve as a seat where multiple people can sit in close proximity to one another and still manage to treat each other like strangers.
We wanted to blur the boundaries between strangers’ personal space regions by providing them with an incentive for making contact with one another. Our first idea revolved around the idea of “twin” outlets - if a person wanted to charge their laptop, for instance, the outlet would not supply power unless its twin was also in use. We had discussed the idea of orienting the outlet in such a manner that it would force strangers to sit close to one another, and by restricting power to solitary individuals, we would also be forcing individuals to communicate with one another to reach their shared goal of charging their respective devices. Other ideas at making strangers work collaboratively took on an element of “gamification.” Strangers could work together to race boats, play music, or change the configuration of the fountain’s water pumps.
Some sketches I made during the brainstorming process.
Once the idea of allowing people to alter the fountain’s state entered our minds, we began to view the concept of personal space in a different light. We began to view personal space as a space in which a person feels a sense of ownership. People spend the vast majority of their time in public spaces in which everything has been predetermined for us. We wanted to give users some agency, a way to make a public space a bit more personal.
So we decided to augment a fountain for people to feel more connected to a place they may pass every day.
From there we set out to build Kroebe, the fountain that recognizes and remembers you.
DEVELOPMENT AND FABRICATION
Felix was our resident electrical engineer, while Emon, Kiyana, and I devoted our efforts to developing the Android Application and fabricating parts for the fountain. The Android application allows users to specify their desired color, height, and frequency of the water coming out of the fountain. I spearheaded the fabrication effort and designed and laser cut the acrylic encasing for the fountain as well as the black box to house all of the electrical components using Illustrator.
As our project came together we tested the lights at various angles to determine the best angle to allow the light to shine through the water. Below is a video of us in the lab late one night testing out different light angles.
We were able to showcase our project at the 2014 Bay Area Maker Faire in San Mateo!