There is a considerable potential in using atmosphere design to develop interactive environments, says Industrial Ph.D. Scholar Sofie Kinch, whose research includes experiments aimed at making the interactive element more personal and intuitive. One of her projects is The Digital Painting, which aims to make it possible to change the atmosphere or ambience of a room to match the people who are present.
By Trine Vu
In the future, when cancer patients are sitting in one of the waiting rooms at Odense University Hospital, their mood will be reflected in a digital painting that influences the atmosphere or ambience of the room. If a patient is pacing the floor, the painting may change colour to engage the patient’s mood and make the waiting room more pleasant.
Sofie Kinch, who is an industrial Ph.D. scholar at the Alexandra Institute and at the Aarhus School of Architecture, recently held a workshop about the project The Digital Painting, and the future scenario outlined above is one of the drafts in her project portfolio. The digital painting is being developed for waiting rooms and living rooms for cancer patients at Odense University Hospital in a project that is a collaboration involving the Alexandra Institute, its subsidiary Redia and the companies Playscape and Modulex. It is still a young project with many open questions, but Sofie Kinchs sees The Digital Painting as a good example of the future of atmosphere design.
She is trained as an architect, and her previous work has included the design of interactive furniture. Now, she is studying how to change the atmosphere of a room by integrating technology into the design of the room.
|Social experiences in the home. Squeeze is a six-metre long, interactive beanbag chair. The idea is that the user “squeezes” a camera ball to take a picture, which then becomes visible through physical activity in the chair. The more people in the chair, the more pictures are shown simultaneously. It is also possible to manipulate the images through sensitive areas in the chair.
The beanbag chair was designed by Sofie Kinch in cooperation with Interactive Spaces at the Alexandra Institute and Microsoft Research.
Photo: Sofie Kinch
Sofie Kinch works mainly with hospital environments, because the atmosphere here has a considerable effect on the patients’ well-being and recovery process.
The vision for the example with The Digital Painting is to create a more pleasant environment in hospital waiting rooms and living rooms for cancer patients.
“By designing the atmosphere of the room in this particular way, we can make the room as pleasant as possible for the patients. There’s a great interest in healing architecture today, because society has begun to realise that human beings are holistic beings, and that our surroundings have a substantial impact on our well-being. That is also a focal point in my research, but I’m taking it one step further by saying that it’s important that the people in a room are allowed to influence the room,” Sofie Kinch explains.
She sees a great potential in the development of interactive environments by means of atmosphere design. But the process has to be human-centred, and the focal point in her research is to facilitate personal and social engagement.
We should use our knowledge and technological advances to once again put the user centre stage, to avoid a situation where an increasingly sophisticated technology is taking charge and alienating people from one another, Sofie Kinch emphasises.
“Today, when the atmosphere or ambience is adjusted with the use of technology, it’s done by turning knobs and throwing switches, and it makes no difference whether it’s you or I pushing the button to turn on the mood lighting in the living room. Philips has designed an interactive system that lets the user choose between various settings, like festive, cosy or standard. But the moods are pre-programmed, and what I would like to do is make the interaction more personal and intuitive,” she says.
As an example, Sofie Kinch brings up an experiment from her research.
“We are experimenting with the possibility of literally adding colour to a room as a person enters, by transferring a colour from their mobile phone to the room. For example, you can take a photo of a yellow surface and transmit it to a technology in the room, and then the yellow colour will transform the room,” she explains.
The user can define which aspects of the room the colour should affect, but it could be anything from the colour on the wall to the music coming out of the sound system.
“Through play and by piquing people’s curiosity the interactive technologies can be used to add a more personal touch to the atmosphere in the room. However, our tests showed that it’s fairly overwhelming for people when the media respond in different ways than we’re used to. It’s very abstract and unfamiliar to have to negotiate about atmospheres, which the test persons interpret in their own individual ways, so that’s something we’ll have to address in the ongoing design process,” she says.
|Atmosphere. Paintings can affect the mood in a room. Among other aspects, Sofie Beck examines whether technology can create an interactive, digital painting that can be modified to match the people and the mood in a room at any given time.
Photo: Mikkel Bech, Redia
Atmosphere has to do with our sense and perception of a place, and by definition this is a fleeting quality that tends to slip away the second we try to focus on it. But creating an atmosphere is a human quality that is so inherent that we’re unable to give it up, says Sofie Kinch and mentions that even the ancient Greeks engaged in atmosphere design by carefully selecting the locations of their amphitheatres.
“Even if the vague notion of atmosphere may seem far removed from the field of technology, we can now use technology to help us create interactive atmospheres, for example to help hospital patients. We should not turn hospitals into theme parks in order to make people laugh regardless of the news they just received from the doctor. But the room should be able to strike a note and facilitate the moods that emerge,” says Sofie Kinch.
She returns to the project of The Digital Painting to explain her vision, where the room should not simply be a reflection of a particular, static atmosphere but should be able to embrace the mood that the people in the room bring with them.
“We need to move past this thing where we simply have a screen saver with a pretty image. There has to be some form of interaction between the digital painting and the people in the room. And the digital painting should not just be able to register the people in the room as, say, tall or short and then automatically select a motif based on a pre-programmed setting. It should be more personal than that. Maybe it should be possible to leave one’s mark on the room based on the duration of one’s presence. Perhaps one should leave traces based on one’s activity in the room,” says Sofie Kinch.
Sofie Kinch sees a considerable potential in interactive atmosphere design. Outside the hospital environment, for example, she sees a potential market for atmosphere design in hotels, since a hotel is a place away from home where it would be nice to feel at home.
“The key is to incorporate the sensual perspective in our use of technology, because the goal is to embrace the holistic person by speaking to the whole body – including all the aspects that we’re not consciously aware of. For example, in hotels the ability to affect the atmosphere interactively could make a big difference, because the atmosphere can help us feel at home and thus more at ease, even if we’re still in a hotel room,” she says.
Sofie Kinch is an industrial Ph.D. scholar at the Alexandra Institute and at the Aarhus School of Architecture. The project is a 4+4 programme, which means that Sofie Kinch began her Ph.D. project during the last year of her master’s studies and thus has four years available for her Ph.D. project. She has currently worked on the project for just over one year.
The working title of her Ph.D. project is Changing Atmospheres in Interactive Environments, and Sofie Kinch works mainly in the hospital sector where interactive changes in atmosphere should help improve the quality of the hospital stay.
During the first year of the project she has focused mainly on interactive furniture, in part by examining the existing market and in part by investigating new potential solutions by integrating technology into furniture. She focuses especially on the sensual approach to the interactive furniture and on the interaction of furniture, users and space.
Currently, via the Alexandra Institute she cooperates with the subsidiary of the institute, Redia, and with the companies Playscape and Mobiles on the project The Digital Painting, which they are developing for Odense University Hospital. Another ongoing project is Fremtidens interaktive seniorstol (The interactive senior chair of the future), which is a collaboration involving the Alexandra Institute and the companies Linak, Schultz Seating and Anders Nørgaard Design.
The Alexandra Institute is a not-for-profit company that works with application-oriented IT research. The Alexandra Institute is a member of GTS – Advanced Technology Group, a network of independent Danish research and technology organisations.
Link to the Alexandra Institute.
Click to read an article about Alexandra Institute: Cooperation Beneficial for Companies and Researchers Alike, Mind Design #6, February 2008.