Soft inflatable robots taking over Bristol this summer

The Playable City development program’s six creative winners have been revealed, with projects ranging from AI-evading games and a “sci-fi-infused digital jungle”.

Cultural organization Watershed has unveiled the six interactive projects that have received funding to be displayed on the streets of Bristol as Playable City Award winners.

The prize encourages designers and artists from around the world to create playful, human-centred technology installations, and awards each of the six winners £45K to turn their designs into prototypes. The Playable City development program is produced by Watershed as part of MyWorld – a research and innovation program for the UK’s technology sector – which is funded by the UK Research and Innovations Strength in Places Fund.

The idea is that once completed, the prototypes will be placed around Bristol in what Watershed calls the Playable City Sandbox, and this year will spark conversations about inclusion, sustainability, monitoring and the future of cities. Another wider aim is to help improve the creative technology ecosystem in the West of England.

The winners

Creative robot studio Air Giants builds inflatable, pneumatically controlled robots. The Squeeze Me project seeks to create a visual and tactile experience using inflatable soft robot technology. When the inflatable and illuminated prototypes are finished, they will be wrapped around trees, lampposts or other street furniture. Passersby will be encouraged to squeeze, hug, lean on or poke them, then the robots will respond with shape-shifting, light and sound.

Another of the winning projects called How (not to) get hit by a self-driving car aims to explore the effects of advances in surveillance. Tomo Kihara + Playfool created a game where humans must avoid being detected by AI that anyone can play.

A feminist art group of Somali women called The Daqan Collective are responsible for The House of Weaving Songs, which – like most of their work – seeks to promote the voices of women and elders in their community. The collective’s interactive installation inspired by the Somali-style nomadic structure called Aqal, is an integration of Somali weaving songs and woven tapestries. The experiment’s goal is to connect the city to cultural practices that can help inspire people to tackle climate change.

Fireflies, a Glitch, by Screaming Color and Arcane is designed to be a digital experience that will transform the streets and landmarks of Bristol into a “sci-fi infused digital jungle” of images and local music without an app. It will be created by a new studio called Glitch AR, which focuses on building connections between physical and digital realities. The team includes XR producer and former head of immersive entertainment for NBCUniversal Michael Salmon and founder of Bath-based interactive media studio Whiley & Co. Ossian Whiley.

Bristol Temple Meads station will be taken over by London-based artist and designer Jake Wates and creative technologist Thomas Blackburn, whose project involves installing a zoetropic lighting experience, designed to be viewed from moving train windows on arrival and departure. The aim is to frame the railway as “a cinematic arrival space” in the city.

Meanwhile, Street Pixel, hardware graffiti installation, aims to use creative technology, game design and a sustainable approach to materials and electronic hardware to strengthen the relationships between people and their cities. Multidisciplinary studio Biome Collective is behind the project.

The work will be displayed around Bristol for a week in July 2023.

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