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RFID and forced intimacy

S&W is here in Oslo with Timo Arnall’s Touch project for an RFID hacking workshop (check out that hand-drawn antenna field map). Yesterday was introductions, learning about RFID as a technology, and some preliminary explorations.

The work group met for breakfast today, and we discussed promising interactions and potential projects. One of the topics that came up was RFID tag visibility.

I know it’s obvious to state it, but RFID tags are generally hidden. To read a tag, first you have to find it with your reader. Design can make the location of the tag obvious… but wouldn’t it be interesting to embrace the invisibility constraint? Could we take advantage of the seeking behaviour that has to occur?

Consider a car showroom. Imagine no salespeople there, and no prices on the cars. When you entered the showroom, you would be given a RFID reader. There would be an RFID tag, holding the price, hidden somewhere on each car. You’d have to find the rough location of the tag to read the price.

Okay, this would be enormously annoying. But it would force you to step closer to the car, to examine the wing mirror to see if a tag was there, get up close to the paint-work on the door. What would happen?

When you get bright lights and noises in films, you feel excited whether the narrative of the film is exciting or not. Playing Project Rub on the Nintendo DS, the blowing interaction forces you to get adrenalised. Your body is tricked. Maybe getting really close to the car would be a kind of forced intimacy. You would feel better disposed to the car whether you liked it or not, simply by virtue of almost hugging it.

Okay, that’s car showrooms. What about parties for teenagers? We made up a Spin the Bottle type game. Oh, and gave it a pirate theme.

The scenario is this: Everyone who comes to your house party gets a token that looks like a gold coin with an RFID tag in it (holding a unique ID). People at the party take turn with the RFID reader. They have to wear a pirate hat, and the reader looks like a buccaneer’s sword. Let’s say you have the sword. You press a button on the handle, and it chooses a random RFID tag. This is the tag you have to find, by going round to everyone at the party and sweeping them with the sword.

Now let’s say you’re a person with a coin. If you’re not too keen on the person wearing the pirate hat, you’d put the coin in your pocket, or under your collar, so it could be found quickly. But maybe if you fancy the person with the hat, you’d conceal the coin a little, to make it harder to find. Gosh. I think it could get a little bit sexy.

I like this game because it celebrates the invisibility of the RFID tags, the fact they have a short detection range, and that the range can be shortened with material. It’s a treasure hunt game, but it doesn’t matter whether you have the chosen coin or not–it can be flirty in any case. It supports social interactions (ahem) rather than displacing them.

We had other ludicrous game ideas: Croquet where the hoops had tags and the balls had readers, where the balls would speak what you had to do next. “You have taken 4 hits. Now get through hoop 2,” your ball would say. You wouldn’t need the rule book. We also considered playing penny football with RFID tags, the readers snapping onto the edges of the tables and recording the number of goals. They could show the score on LCD screens, and play cheering sounds whenever a goal was scored.

Both of these games feel as silly to me as Slapz, the electronic game that replaces the children’s game Red Hands (or “slaps”).

The forced intimacy treasure game feels just as silly, but much more fun.

One Comment or Trackback

  • 1. gavin said on 19 October 2006...

    Who remembers the sci-fi book where a character built something, maybe it was a house or some sort of dwelling. He used “smart” blocks that, I think, spoke to him, telling him where to put them, what block to go to, etc. Sounds like a Sterling story maybe? Heck, I don’t remember.

    Regardless, I like that idea, enabling “construction.” Take a bunch of random blocks, big Lego or something, stick some RFID tags in the pieces and have fun. The reader can be programmed for different sorts of arrangements, maybe it’s a 3D puzzle you’re putting together, or a backyard fort or maybe you’ve downloaded some sort of schematic for a funky sculpture; load it up in the reader. Whatever, doesn’t matter. You’ve got plenty of pieces (they’re cheap!) and some time this weekend.

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