Year 2010
Production Design + Interaction Design + Programming (Arduino Platform)

Thesis project
Exploring new forms of communication over distance through physical objects and ambient information.

Project Overview
Knock is a pair of networked woodpeckers designed to call attention to people from various locations in a virtual network. The working prototype is a simply shaped wooden woodpecker, with a built-in circuit board that can communicate with other “Knock” objects. The concept for this project is to substitute something more playful and physical for the normal ways people call for each other’s attention on the Internet, e.g. jumping icons, songs or phone rings, pop up windows.

The purpose of this project was to explore how sound and motion can improve interpersonal communication. The goal of the project was to create an off-screen interface showing the presence of other people in a network and facilitating communication with them. The idea came from a simple action, knocking on the door or table, that people usually do when they want someone’s attention. When people work and live apart, they often choose instant messaging to talk to one another. Jumping icons or the ringing of instant messages appears on their computer desktops, calling their attention anytime everyday. It is very efficient for communicating but somehow a little bit boring. Everything happens on the screen. If users are somewhere without a screen, nothing will happen. Therefore, I designed this physical attention-getting device that I hope will create more playful and enjoyable communication.

Physical Form
The physical form of this project is a woodpecker. When a woodpecker pecks a tree, the sound and action are similar to the sound and action of people knocking on doors or tables. The shape of a woodpecker evokes a knock action. Thus, I used the woodpecker as the physical form for this project. Using sketching, illustration, form sculpting, and wood modeling I played with different abstract woodpecker shapes to arrive at a form that is communicative.

The concept prototype was programmed on the Arduino platform. The mechanical part was made with a rotary solenoid, a switch, an XBee chip, and a custom built Arduino circuit board. There is a spring inside the rotatory solenoid to bring the woodpecker back to its position or knock on the wall automatically when a user presses the woodpecker’s tail. When the woodpecker’s tail is pressed, it triggers the switch and sends a signal to another woodpecker through the network. When the other woodpecker receives the signal, it will knock on the wall in the same way that the first one knocks. In other words, when you manually make one woodpecker peck the wall, its connected partner, wherever it is located, will knock on the wall simultaneously.

Knock serves as a physical interface to substitute for instant messaging, a normal way people get each other’s attention over distance. Knock not only achieved this goal but also opened up an opportunity for interaction. This exchange of knocks is not the linear interaction of seeing a jumping icon on the computer, clicking the application, opening up a pop up window, typing a response, then sending it back. Instead, it’s open enough to allow users to create and discover their patterns of behavior over time (their custom Morse code). This simple and playful action and reaction allows people to develop and devise their own ways of communicating.
“Knock” was exhibited in the MediaLucious show in March 2011. Two “Knock” objects were set up next to two windows. Most of the audience pushed the woodpeckers’ tails, saw the reaction, and laughed. They said “it’s interesting” and “it’s like a toy.” There were a few audience members who played with “Knock” crazily. They quickly pushed the tail and tried to see whether the other “Knock” object would react in the same frequency or not. And then there were two groups of people who stood in front of two “Knock” objects and really talked to each other by knocking their woodpecker seeing it trigger the other side. It was an invaluable moment to me to see how they communicated through “Knock,” and that they created their own pattern of communication.

Knock Prototype Demo

This is the prototype showing you how the physical knock object works. The pair woodpecker connect wireless and trigger each other by pushing the tail. It is fun to create several knocking code for communication.