A few weeks ago we packed four creatives and four flip-dot crates into a car for a 500 mile round trip to the Met Office in Exeter.
I went to meet Michael Saunby – ‘Open Innovation Manager' along with with Uniform's Technical Lead David Challener and Creative Technologist Martin Skelly to talk about an exciting opportunity to collaborate at the London Design Festival’s Digital Weekend 2014. It promised to be engaging, inspiring, and full of ‘tinkering and inventive electronics’ – right up our street.
On arrival at the high security site we met with Michael and his team and introduced them to flip-dot – a low resolution electromagnetic display. Eager to use flip-dot technology to bring the work of the Met Office to life we ran a creative session with their team to generate ideas and visited their archives. A meteorologist's treasure trove of artefacts, journals, weather charts and diaries.
One of the most interesting things to come from our conversations was the unseen work that goes on. Away from the traditional weather forecast the Met Office is a hive of activity. They have an open data resource called Datapoint that captures real time data from a surprisingly vast network of sensors. In particular, hidden off the coast of the UK is a network of buoys and light vessels creating marine data, 24 hours a day.
Back in the studio it was a team collaboration between R&D, Design and Digital to bring the display to life in time for the V&A Digital Weekend. Refining our idea we started to think about what makes flip-dot different from a modern LCD display and the answer was right in front of us ‘click, click, click.’ The distinctive noise the disks make as they turn over and hit the magnet. We wanted to use this to ask the question what does the ocean around the UK sound like? And how do we bring this data to life in a beautiful way?
We challenged ourselves to use only the low res display of flip-dot to tell our story. This may sound straightforward but at only 42 pixels high, we certainly had our work cut out!
One of the biggest tests was to create a generative wave form that represents a real wave at different buoy and light vessel locations. After several working prototypes we settled on a Perlin noise algorithm which allowed us to represent the wave height, wave period and the wind speed.
V&A Digital weekend
After a six hour journey to the capital we arrived at the V&A’s Secretariat Gate to set up for the Digital Weekend.
Our newly improved flip-dot transportation (two crates with wheels!) rocked through the priceless artefacts and glass cabinets in Night at the Museum fashion. After a rapid installation, our exhibit was ready and (eventually!!) correctly configured for opening at 10am.
With what turned out to be a prime location people came flooding in drawn by the ‘click, click, click’ of flipping disks.
In parallel to our exhibit there was a hack day being run by Michael Saunby and the Met Office where we got involved creating an interactive logo for a man in a silver space suit…eventually to be sent to Tim Peake who is going to the international space station. (Not your average design brief!)
Overall we all enjoyed the weekend, it was a resounding success and we met loads of highly enthusiastic, interesting people and some interesting brands, putting innovation at the forefront.