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Blog posts tagged as 'mechanical'

Olinda interface drawings

Last week, Tristan Ferne who leads the R&D team in BBC Audio & Music Interactive gave a talk at Radio at the Edge (written up in Radio Today). As a part of his talk he discussed progress on Olinda.

Most of the design and conceptual work for the radio is finished now. We are dealing with the remaining technicalities of bringing the radio into the world. To aid Tristan’s presentation we drew up some slides outlining how we expect the core functionality to work when the radio manifests.

Social module

Social Module sequence

This animated sequence shows how the social module is expected to work. The radio begins tuned to BBC Radio 2. A light corresponding to Matt’s radio lights up on the social module. When the lit button is pressed, the top screen reveals Matt is listening to Radio 6 Music, which is selected and the radio retunes to that station.


Tuning drawing

This detail shows how the list management will work. The radio has a dual rotary dial for tuning between the different DAB stations. The outer dial cycles through the full list of all the stations the radio has successfully scanned for. The inner dial filters the list down and cycles through the top five most listened to stations. We’ll write more on why we’ve made these choices when the radio is finished.

Celebration of function

This post is going to be about objects that celebrate their functions. This was an area of research for me during my time at the Royal College of Art. I’m going to follow on from Matt’s post on Disco and intrinsic activities. More show than tell here I think.

Here is my favourite piece of video right now. It is from the film 9 and a Half Weeks (via James Auger), and if you can wade your way through Rourke and Basinger power bonking their way around Manhattan you see this tape deck in his apartment. I’ve looped the video a couple of times and slowed it so you can see clearly.

I’m pretty sure it is a Nakamich RX tape deck. Using a system called UDAR (UniDirectional Auto Reverse) it mechanically flips the tape over at the end of each side. Something to do with aligning the heads. It is a fantastic piece of perfomance, and completely intrinsic to the nature and qualities of tape decks. Whatever it’s functional relevance might be, witnessing a mechanical operation so performative is excellent, the object is so discreetly joyful about what it is doing.

I also came across this video of a Red Raven records vinyl (via Alex Jarvis) on, along with some lovely research on vinyl video. It has two components. One is the vinyl, which has a large area of printed imagery on the larger than normal label; the second is a sixteen sided mirror which sits in the middle of your turn table and works like a zoetrope, reflecting the images on the vinyl as it turns and creating animation.

This a is beautiful response to the intrinsic qualities of vinyl and the mechanism of the record deck. More products should include this sort of wit and performative funtionality.

Robot arms

So I’ve been thinking about hands and arms. I started by thinking of extremely small hands, on my hands. So here are some drawings from that thinking.

Physical VR

This drawing is of a toy that shrinks your hands down so you can play in a small world, with small figures. Your fingers are all connected up to a group of flex sensors, which converts the analogue movement to a cluster of servos. The servos collectively control fingers on the small hands by tightening or loosening. So the movements of your fingers become roughly and awkwardly analogous to those of the small hands in the toy. There is also a screen inside some goggles hooked up to a small camera in a glass ball between the two small arms. So when you look in to the goggles, you see what is in front of your arms. There are two wheels which you can twist to point the camera in different directions, like an eye. Kind of like an analogue version of virtual reality, only right in front of you and not virtual.

Hand Finger

I would also like to have a very small hand at the end of my finger. To pick up pens and things. You control the small hand on one finger using your other fingers, with flex sensors (same as above). You lose one of your big hands to gain a little hand on the end of one of your fingers.

I came across Chad Thornton‘s work. He is at Google now, but he made a mechanical finger as part of his work at Carnegie Mellon Interaction Design programme (nice video here).

Maybe I’m carrying some latent affection for the Radio Shack Armatron here, I don’t know. These themes are common in films. This must be informed by Ripley’s Power Loader from Aliens:

The belt buckle, and rubberised keyboard make her rig seem really convincing, her trainers too, and how she locks into the unit. The cyborg fingers for typing in Ghost in the Shell are nice too.

No doubt there are more. It makes me think of Robocop‘s gun hip too although slightly off topic.

I like them, robot arms. I see them as a celebration of industrial process. I predict they will become a more widespread part of our lives. They are cheaper now (it appears that non-load bearing ones don’t require three phase power either) and since they are multi modal they can perform many tasks, in strange contexts. No doubt FDM or other fittings are/will be available, implications of that could be very large. Imagine a robot arm in your drive thr(o)u(gh), changing a tyre, and then printing out your happy meal. Our lives could become peppered with arrays of multi-buildy-arms.

Robotlab (via Roger Ibars) are a German partnership who have used industrial robot arms to perform a DJ set. Witnessing the arms is as important as their role. I find them disconcertingly accurate, mechanised confidence in something typically so analogue and expert and careful. There is also something about their inflexibility, their inability to reach inside certain arcs, too close to themselves. I like the way they occasionally find a sync with each other, and at other times drift out. I think these guys have a business model set up around this, so I’m very interested to see how that develops.

I want one.

Drawing phones


I think I’m mostly going to post drawings from my sketchbooks, and talk around those for a while. Since a lot of my thinking starts like this. My sketchbooks are also places where I put ideas that would be too difficult to make, so they just get drawn instead.

I think phones mostly used to look like this:

Old phone drawing

Now they don’t. During our work for Nokia and my time at the RCA, I developed groups of ideas around phones and how their functionality influences their form. The ideas follow a continuing enthusiasm for celebration of function, something that continues to influence the work Matt and I do.

Drawing of phone 01

The first is a sketch of a phone dock that distributes all the things I use in the phone into discrete physical instances locally. Pretty self descriptive really, a receipt printer pushes out text messages as they arrive. To make a call, stamp out the number, or add a name card from the Rolodex, then pull down on the indicator lever, the end blinks while it rings and snaps back when the phone returns to idle or someone answers.

Mechanical phone

This phone explores the keypad unlock function. As it opens from its locked down position, the screen opens like a flower and all the buttons turn over like little Porsche* headlamps. Locked down, it is completely flush and faceless, no risk of pocket dialling, but fragile, mechanical and slim when open.

*(is it Porsche or am I revising history?)

Extra hand set

Hands free sets feel quite unsatisfying. Wouldn’t it be better if your phone came with an extra hand? This phone comes with a small robot arm (plugged into your data port), to hold your tea, or mangle paper clips while you are listening to your voice mail. Definitely needs to be more exploration of robot arms in the future.

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