Park View Hotel
Cesar Chavez Plaza / Fairmont Hotel, downtown San Jose. For ZeroOne / ISEA 2006.




Video:

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spot
SPOT and attached display unit inside the hotel room.

protoscope
First prototype of the scope.

lawnpod
Scope placed in the park, location one.

 

This work was produced with the untiring support of:

arshan poursohi
michael russo
keith hargreaves
roger meike
abhay sukumaran
roopesh sitharan
shaina anand

Additional thanks are due to:

steve dietz
wanda webb
gunalan nadarajan
michella rivera-gravage
katherine wallerstein
gordon knox
jessica theroux
and other dinner-tablists at montalvo


Park View Hotel stretches between the Cesar Chavez plaza in downtown San Jose and the neighbouring Fairmont Hotel. Using specially-built pointing devices, audiences in the park can access interior hotel spaces, by "pinging" them optically. Once found and hit (different modes on the scope) the interiors release their properties into a wireless network... the color of the interior propagates stochastically, leaking out of the building skin, jumping across the street, and entering some street-lights in the park below. In this way, the park enjoys a certain neighbourly access to the hotel, inverting the usual character of the relationship.

This project was the result of a residency at Sun Microsystems Labs, where I was (as per the residency brief) working with SunSPOTs, small "programmable object technologies" which are a simple-to-use prototyping platform for embedded technologies, or the so-called "Internet of Things".

Here are Notes from a presentation at the Prix Ars Electronica Forum, Sep. 2007.
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Further notes:

There are two non-technical questions around wireless transducer networks that this artwork and its choice of interface can be seen to address (and perform).

One is the question of WHERE ONE MAY PLACE THE NETWORK, i.e a question of permissions and property, physical access and propriety.

The second is the question of addressing, of how to FIND, or rather RECOGNIZE something in the network, once the network is in place (or mobile, and so on). This may appear trivial, but it is a question about how information travels through the network, and in what context one "sees" a node within it.

The two questions may be thought of as follows:

1. The answer to WHERE, according to the boosterist vision of ubiqitous computing, is = everywhere. However, this has proved difficult, as the history of sensor networks appears to tell us. Because of complex existing patterns of ownership and control in the physical world, idealized "everyware" has to negotiate with a number of non-technical considerations, including the legality of its placement. Historically then, large-scale experiments using such technology have often been conducted in contexts of extreme power, as in the Great Duck Island experiment (one of the early successful implementations of a large network, where a group of scientists pervasively monitored a duck population on a remote island) or in real or imagined war-zones (where permissions to place the devices are assumed, by occupying forces for example). A related technology, RFID, extends such capability into the domain of supply chains and consumer goods. Notions of who owns "the thing", and who owns and uses information "about the thing" are then, in one scenario atleast, approaching a direct conflict.

This project's response was to try and evoke questions of a broader architecture of such networks, of how their placement evokes an expanded notion of property, and questions about who can access what, from where, and to ask if peculiar or non-standard forms of access/privilege will be wiped out, in an embedded world.

The title "Park View Hotel" outlines the spatial idea: to challenge the notion of the park as a passive background, an adjacent environmental "property" that the hotel and its residents may exploit (here, like in other hotels, there is a premium on "park view" rooms). The normal optical and access relationships are turned around... the park can access interior "properties" of the hotel, from beyond the hotel's "property line". The park is an active agent: the electronically-embedded hotel the target of its opto-electronic gaze.

2. To the question of how each individual node is addressed, the usual answer is that each node has a network address, a global or local code that is sufficiently unique. This distrubuted, directionless form of address goes beyond the notion of location as something with a referent in the "real" world. It is no longer necessary to see something, or even map it in any visual sense, before we ping it. But perhaps it remains interesting to do so, in a mode that is distinct from the vertical mappings of "locative media".

In the past, we have looked through "-oscopes", optical instruments for many of the same reasons we access an electronic network today: monitoring, measurement, signaling, surfing, voyeurism. To consider this ocular tradition alongside the distributed database, to reconsider the directional within the pervasive, this project uses the gesture of pointing. Pointing is present in many contemporary network forms... from satellite dishes to free-space optical networks, for example. But to point also provides a direct, somewhat impolite sense of engagement with what is being addressed, as seen in a classic, perhaps paradigmatic form of "address"- the shoot.

Shooting is the opposite (or perhaps a limit case) of the haptic, proximate gestures present in many forms of the term "interface". To shoot with a gun implies keeping-at-a-distance, holding at length, in which the gun's range helps to insulate the "interaction". To aim with a gun is to contemplate a singular form of address: you die. The gun is then perhaps the ultimate pointing device (here we remember also the military roots of other pointing technologies such as the computer mouse / cross-hair). In war-zones, the tight co-relation of optical and armament trajectories translates into the dictum: "If I can see you, you're already dead." But, this involves the extraction of the "target" from its neighbourhood, its unavoidable context. The act of aiming here alludes to this idea, that to "address" something may involve looking at the neighbours.

There are two subject-positions that are interesting to me, here: The long-range voyeur (marked by the scope) about to make a decision that will effect his target, but also himself. And the (imaginary) hotel resident, exposing themselves to an unseen and unknown external gaze. At the level of the network, there are two related moments: the embedded network being exposed to external forces, and the moment of subsequent "leakage", of the network exceeding its assumed ownership envelope: jumping over the street, into the park, and "re-embedding" into the public infrastructure.

To recap and as a technical outline, a typical user interaction proceeds as follows:

In the park, the audience comes across tubular scope-like devices mounted on tripods, pointing at the hotel building. These are "fenestroscopes", focused optical transmitters. These fenestroscopes (from fenestre: window and to fenestrate: make holes, in surgery) are modified "laser tag" hardware, used in military training and hobbyist shooting-games. The eyepiece has no magnification, only an aiming ring, and as such does not change the technical definition of "looking" at the hotel with an unaided eye. The eye is needed to aim the active optics (which are invisible IR) which have a range of upto 500 metres in the dark. These particular scopes have two possible modes: spot and shoot.

The "spot" mode is used for spotting the SPOTs. You look through the targeting ring while holding the spot button down, and pan across the hotel facade. The scope is sending out optical packets of the "find signal", and hotel rooms that are instrumented respond to this by lighting up (they are otherwise dark). When lit, the colors of these interiors slowly change across an RGB spectrum, evoking different moods in the interior.

When a room is "found", you can shoot it, i.e. send a different instruction using the shoot button, along the line of sight. In response to this, the current colour of the room jumps out of the window, and through a number of small displays (a total of 40 SPOTS are used) finds a route down into the streetlights in the park. So you see say the orange "mood" of the room, a peculiar interior property, travel down via a number of led displays (which also count the number of network hops required), taking a couple of seconds, until the streetlights also turn the same shade of orange. A total of six hotel rooms were instrumented (with the hotel's permission) in this way. The route down from each of these is calculated by the nodes themselves, with a degree of randomness, evoking the infection of in-between spaces. The displays count each hop with numbers. The audience watches the network "count itself", or in other words, measure and display its own behaviour.

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Park View Hotel was developed at Sun Microsystems Labs, Menlo Park, using SunSPOT programmable object technology, as part of a residency project commissioned by ZeroOne San Jose and the Sally and Don Lucas Artists Programs at the Montalvo Arts Center.

The scopes are a modification of the (till recently) open-source laser-tag platform MILES-tag, see www.lasertagparts.com

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