As the nights draw in and the temperature drops with the fall into autumn in here in the UK, a trip to Tampa, Florida in late September could be seen by some as an excuse to stock up on Vitamin D! Team members Andy Lloyd and Dr Hannah Rudman enjoyed a few moments in the sun in Tampa, whilst spending most of their time at ASTC 2016, the annual international conference for the Association of Science and Technology Centers.
They presented to c. 70 Science and Technology professionals interested in the interactive research pod, and the data and ethical consent gathering tools that we have “Embedded in the Exhibit”. The pod was also mentioned in the opening article of the June 2016 edition of Dimensions, the quarterly glossy magazine of the ASTC community which was given away to all conference participants.
The wider conference was launched by a lively and inspiring opening session that included “artistic astronaut”, Nicole Stott, the first person to paint a work of art in space! Her commitment to ensuring creative approaches are a part of scientific endeavour mirrors our aspirations.
Team member Dr Claire Bailey-Ross met another astronaut just a few days later at the UK Association for Science and Discovery Centres’ 2016 national conference. She presented a Pecha Kucha about our project to c. 120 attendees, including UK astronaut Tim Peake, who was looking particularly 2D since his return from space…
Back at ASTC 2016, Linda Conlon, ASTC’s board chair (and chief executive of the International Centre for Life), then discussed why science centres must engage with refugees and migrants and rethink their business models if they are to survive and meet the needs of future audiences. Her key themes included the “new divide” between those who see an open world (with globalisation and technological change) as broadly beneficial and those who see these forces as threatening and destructive. The new politics of our age will not be “left versus right” but “open versus closed.” This idea links to the ASTC supported International Science Center & Science Museum Day 2016 experiment: a global citizen science observation of clouds. Science Centres and Museums all over the world are encouraging the general public to take images of clouds with their own devices between 1-22 October, then upload them via the Globe Observer app. The citizen science data will be shared with NASA to help them generate a global visualisation of cloud cover.
Back in the UK over the summer, we collected 2814 sets of data with ethical consent granted, a 79% acceptance rate from the general public to use their data for research. We are interested in how our research pod which is obviously already a popular science exhibit and research observatory, can begin to be used for/with citizen science projects. We are excited to consider how data generated and given ethical consent by the general public at the International Centre for Life can co-operate with and compliment official data, and can be shared openly.
Adam explains in the forum post the improvements made to the original hardware set-up to solve some of the initial problems the team had during piloting phase (the camera viewing angles weren’t wide enough, and visitors tried to move the cameras). The hardware system solution had to enable automatic digital data collection, capturing user activity at an exhibit.
By using dome cameras on the pod, we were able to widen out the camera angle to capture more user activity:
Dome camera securely mounted with plastic cover (and glue!)
Dome cameras in each workstation in the exhibit pod
We used heavy duty glue to secure the cameras in their housing to make sure the dome cameras do not move when they are touched. We also chose to keep on the plastic lens covers the dome cameras were packaged with (the cameras are part of a fixed exhibit which has to endure an expected lifetime of 5-8 years).
The overhead camera was mounted high enough above the pod to capture activity across all three workstations in the pod.
The standard camera overhead
All 4 camera views
The interactive research pod’s final hardware list is:
3x Linx 10″ Windows 10 Tablets
3x Unifi Video Dome Cameras (UVC Dome)
1x Unifi Video Camera (UVC)
1x UniFi Switch 8 Port (Beta model)
1x UniFi AP (UAP)
1x Server (Dual Core Xeon, 6GB Ram, 128GB SSD, 2x 3TB HDD in RAID1) – Running Apache2, MySQL, (LimeSurvey) and UniFi Video
Adam also shared on the forum the shell script he wrote to join all the video camera recordings together, using ffmpeg to automate a daily video export, which has also received kudos. This allows the digital video data collected at the Centre for Life to automatically be transferred to Durham University’s secure server, where it is hosted to enable Durham researchers to analyse it.
Many thanks to Adam for his solution focussed approach to solving the IT hardware and data transfer issues. The external kudos he is receiving from the UBNT forum is echoed by the project team.
The Chair of the Wellcome Trust, Baroness Manningham-Buller visited the interactive research pod, and spoke to the Design for Creativity and Innovation in Informal Science Learning team of academic researchers and science centre practitioners. The team explained to the Baroness about the live science experiments we are undertaking with it, and the research outcomes we might see. The Baroness officially opened the Brain Zone gallery at the Centre for Life, where the interactive research pod is hosted amongst other exhibits that engage people with exploring how our brains work.
Following nine months of iterative design and development by the research team, the interactive research pod has been piloted live over October half term in 2015 and during February 2016 half-term holiday. Some of you may have helped us experiment with it – thank you! We gave you the challenge of building the best building you could with simple wooden blocks. We were able to record the construction process and the finished results through a set-up of digital surveillance cameras built into the exhibit.
We gained permission to use the images of people building constructions through online consent forms on touchscreen tablets. If consent was given, the tablet screen exhibited green. Continue reading “Piloting the pod”