Playful Encounters with Animals

Designing playful engagements with animals to find, imagine, or emphasize non-speciesist practices

Arduino, Buttons, Wires, …and a dog

For the master in Interaction Design that I am currently following at Malmö University I am following a course called ‘Embodied Interaction’. In this course we learn about physical computing and interaction using the presence of a body in time and space.

One of the weekend assignments after a couple of classes in Arduino and Processing from David Cuartielles was to make a simple game using physical buttons. Here is a short video of the result:

The most interesting thing about this assignment was the chance to rapidly prototype and test a simple human-animal interaction that is mediated by technology, without the possibility to spend a lot of time on research. This approach was possible because of the personal understanding and experience I have with my dog Jojo. I can mostly understand her abilities, signals, and motivations (mainly cookies), which made it possible to prototype a more-or-less working interaction.

This prototype lacks a lot of elements that I would have liked to implement. Most importantly, there is no clearly visible account of ‘play‘ for the dog during the interaction. Jojo seems to be mostly interested in earning the cookies and therefore following up on my body language. I think that this type of interaction is therefore more related to ‘training‘ than ‘play’. Furthermore, the system itself does not provide any feedback to the dog and she is therefore focused on my body language, voice, and rewards. However, looking at the signals Jojo is communicating (wagging tail, eye-contact, upright ears) I think it was an over-all positive experience for both of us.

After a short period of testing, with a focus on the interaction between the system, the human, and the animal, I gained the following insights for improvement:

  • The buttons could provide more feedback by playing sounds when they are pressed (such as squeaky dog-toy sounds);
  • The human-computer interaction could be more aligned with the human-animal interaction by placing the screen with the video game closer to the buttons. With this, I mean that if the human player does not have to divide his/her attention between the dog and the screen there could be more eye-contact with the dog;
  • The buttons could be improved by using more round shapes and a soft cover to avoid injuring the dog and offer more surface for the dog;
  • For my dog, the duration of the game should be slightly shorter to avoid her from getting bored or frustrated;
  • At last, in my opinion, the game itself should be mostly focused on having a positive experience with your dog rather than getting a high score.

Even though rapid prototyping does not immediately lead to a desired end-result, it is a useful tool that provides clear insights and a lot of fun. In case you want to experiment with your own Arduino and dog, send me an e-mail for the source code!

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This entry was posted on December 8, 2013 by and tagged , , , .
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