Use of cell phones is strongly encouraged for tech devotees flocking to Silicon Valley’s ‘social media whispering wall’
As its name implies, Datagrove is literally a grove of data or a “social media ‘whispering wall,'” if you will, that aggregates locally trending Twitter feeds and parrots them out of speakers and LCD displays woven into the digital branches of the installation. Nonprofit art/technology network ZERO1 commissioned the installation from San Francisco–based experimental design company Future Cities Lab for its Art + Technology Biennial in San Jose, CA, now on view through December 8, 2012. The theme of this year’s Biennial is “Seeking Silicon Valley,” which seems like a particularly appropriate place to plunder data normally hidden away in smartphones and amplify it for all to hear using custom sensors, text-to-speech modules, LEDs, and LCDs capable of responding directly to people in the immediate vicinity.
In order to “render the invisible aspects of Silicon Valley visible,” Nattaly Gattegno and Jason Kelly Johnson, the principals of Future Cities Lab, created a lattice structure interwoven with Twitter trending technology by Onehouse, IR sensors, TextSpeak‘s Text to Speech Module, LEDs by Super Bright LEDs, and Sparkfun‘s WiFly Shield and LCD panels that translate geo-located data feeds into light and sound. “As one approaches the installation a series of infrared sensors trigger the sensing pods to light up, which, through a series of embedded speakers, whisper to you the trending information like…Have you heard about…Oracle, or Have you heard about …Olympics,” said Gattegno.
Before weaving everything together, Gattegno and Johnson first tested all of the materials individually while also developing “physical prototypes of the interactive sensing pods containing all the electronic components.” After a series of tests they decided the best way to house the electronics was to seal them in vacuum formed 2-ply acrylic shells which they wove into a larger structure made from bent acrylic tubing and galvanized steel conduit. “The acrylic is heated and molded in a series of custom CNC milled jigs while the steel is bent over another set of custom jigs,” Gattegno said. “Although made up of two material systems, the acrylic and steel interlock in a very deliberate way, structuring each other and suspending the sensing pods within them.”
All of the electronics, both the acrylic-shelled pods and the systems they operate with—the text-to-speech synthesizers, motion sensors, LCDs and LEDs—are part of an Arduino-based micro-controlled system produced and engineered in-house at Future Cities Lab’s San Francisco workshop. The components were then secured to a base made from CNC milled plywood and polypropylene and installed onsite in the courtyard of San Jose’s historic California Theater, creating a gathering place for the geographically disparate and disconnected Silicon Valley. The longer you view or interact with Datagrove, the easier it is to make sense of the data. Gradually, you discern patterns and begin to detect a natural cadence from what initially seems like a tangled web of Silicon Valley’s verbal overflow.
Photographs by Peter Prato. Additional assistance from Ripon DeLeon, interns Osma Dossani and Jonathan Izen, assisted by David Spittler.