Digital developments

Rebecca Atkinson, 18.02.2014
Emerging digital projects from the Digital R&D fund
I was at Nesta’s headquarters in London last week to hear about some of the projects from the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts. Three of the four case studies presented are all still in their early stages, but offered some interesting insights into digital developments across the broader arts and cultural sectors.

First up were Sheffield Doc/Fest and Blast Theory, which have been exploring the potential of public 4G and Mi-Fi (Wi-Fi hotspots) to create digital performances in public spaces.

More detail about Blast Theory’s immersive game I'd Hide You is available on the project website, and includes findings that the organisers hope will be used by other organisations looking to create participatory performances in public spaces.

The second project between Extant, a performing arts company of visually-impaired people, and the Open University is exploring how to create cultural events that can be experienced in the same way by visually-impaired and sighted people.

A haptic navigation device resembling a lotus flower uses robotics technology and infrared sensors to change its form in response to an artistic installation. Coupled with an audio soundtrack, this tactile feedback enables people to explore and experience the installation without having to see it.

After reading the recent feature in Museums Journal about how museums are widening access to people with autism, I was really interested to hear about a project by Circus Star, a not-for-project circus troupe that puts on performances for disadvantaged children.

Unknown experiences can be stressful for many autistic children, and the project is developing an app called Show And Tell that enables children and their families or carers to gain prior understanding of the circus.

In partnership with the technology partner Therapy Box, Circus Star is investigating how digital technologies can assist autistic children by creating visualisations and coping strategies. The team hopes the app could be repurposed for other arts or cultural organisations.

The last project presented on the night was an app designed to enhance the visitor experience to a new permanent gallery at Nottingham Castle. Developed by Hot Knife Digital Media, the project is using augmented reality to tell the story of Nottingham’s 1831 National Reform Bill riots.

The technology offers visitors multiple view points, so they can experience the storming of the castle by protestors from different characters’ perspectives. Rather than just holding up a device and passively watching recreated footage, people will be able to actively explore the spaces using 3D augmented reality.

Another interesting element to this project is the fact that the museum wants the app to be more than just an engagement tool – by enabling visitors to explore the spaces, objects and stories in this way, it wants to promote debate about the riots (and the subsequent destruction of the castle) and let people make their own decisions about whose version of history they believe.