Using technology to augment our relationships with others. Created in collaboration with Dan Rapoport, Ivan Zhao, Xinru Li, and Charles Tan.
Socialization can come in many forms and occur in many settings; whether you’re meeting a stranger for the first time in a coffee shop, or working on a project with classmates, or simply sharing a dinner with your family. As humans, one of our most innate needs is the need for belonging and relationships with others. However, it seems that social situations are becoming more anxiety-provoking and difficult to come by than ever before.
Pre-pandemic, the heightening ideological divides in our country and rising presence of social media apps initiated a radical change in the way we socialize. others. Thanks to the internet, we don’t need acceptance or relationships with the people around us; we can find community with people we might not ever physically meet, or who live thousands of miles away. During the pandemic, our nationwide quarantine completely upended all of our collective lives, and forced us all into a state of social isolation for the sake of public health. Even now as we begin to leave our homes and try to embrace some semblance of normalcy, many of us are unsure of how to proceed. How do we even make new friends now? What’s the balance between socializing in order to feel connection with others, and protecting our health? Both technology and the events of this past year have had irreversible impacts on the modern social landscape.
Our concept for this project began with a single prompt: technology and furniture. While both of these terms are incredibly broad, they typically carry very specific and relatively opposing connotations. The term “technology” calls to mind remote interactions, far removed from what we would typically constitute as “bonding” or “socializing.” On the other hand, “furniture” seems undeniably rooted in the physical realm. We can’t always touch technology, unless you count swiping your phone screen as touching it. You’ll never know how it feels to sit on an algorithm. However, what is furniture if not something to be touched or felt in the physical realm? This dichotomy was a fascinating place for us to begin the design process.
We knew going into this project that we wanted to build something that brought people together, something to enhance all of our social lives, rather than detract from it. We hoped to combine all the beneficial and prosocial aspects of modern technology and firmly them in the physical realm.
We began first by coming up with numerous concepts as a group.
Although we struggled initially with so many opposing directions to choose from, we eventually decided to focus on the concept of a shared coworking table, with hologram capabilities integrated into the table itself. The initial idea was to build the optimal furniture for people who needed to collaborate with one another and share imagery easily. This would address current issues with screen sharing, screen positioning, and technical difficulties with screen casting.
With an initial concept chosen, we began physical model making to make more specific form decisions. We also used 3D modeling as a way to prototype more complex forms, and explore the joinery of the final model.
For our final design of the hologram table, we used the idea of the Pepper’s ghost cone to create a hologram using projections on a TV that acts as a monitor. The circular requirements for projecting into the cone lead to a circular design of the table itself, which we built using a CNC mill and a lot of malleting. To project images onto the cone, we wrote a python script that converts rectangular images to polar images, and converts normally rectangular objects into circles that can be seen from multiple angles.
While we initially intended our Hologram Table to be a table for workspace collaboration, by the end of two long days putting our table together, all we wanted to do was play a video of a fireplace and see what it would look like. The circular nature of the table, along with the cozyness of seeing a 3 dimensional table, quickly led to us hanging around, chatting, generally having a good time. By the end of the fireplace clip, we started putting in other music visualizers into the table, which provided both a great source of entertainment, aesthetic appreciation, and also helped our conversations flow easier.
While our initial goals were to create a table for better workplace collaboration, being in the physical space, interacting with this table made us realize it’s much greater value in bringing people together. Ironically, it also brought us back to our initial thought processes around the dichotomy of the virtual realm of technology and brought people together in a physical space through furniture.
For our next steps, we would love to further explore this *vibes* table, perhaps creating our own music visualizer that accompanies the table, and think through more use cases to make this table accessible to an everyday audience.