Mark Roland

a portfolio of art, design and technology


May 2008 — Irvine, CA

Gravitable is a furniture platform for engaging people in socialization and reflection through networked information. People naturally seek patterns and manipulate them when possible, and Gravitable is a convivial, meaningful and open-ended way to share information across a network. This project was developed as the project component of my Master's Thesis in the Arts Computation Engineering program at the University of California, Irvine.

Use Scenario

Three friends, each with a networked Gravitable and a shared understanding that an object placed at the center of the table indicates the highest degree of interest in social activity, may occur as follows: Sara is at home due to a cancelled class and looking for something to do, so she places her TV remote near the center of the table as she starts to watch television. When Matt comes home for lunch he notices that his Gravitable has traced out a pattern that he is not used to seeing—it looks as if Sara is looking for something to do in the middle of the day. Matt checks his instant messenger and finds out that Sara would love to meet up for lunch. At the end of the day Stuart comes home, notices an unusual pattern, but chooses to ignore it and empties his pockets on the edge of his Gravitable before lying down.

In this scenario each of the objects on the table represents an individual agent capable of communicating a degree of social interest. This allows the participant to generate information by placing objects on the table and to interpret information as it is portrayed in the tracing. Some unique positive affordances of the Gravitable in this scenario are the abilities to:

  1. share status information in a continuous, natural manner through the manipulation of household or pocket objects
  2. ambiently read the status of others (micro)
  3. grok the current atmosphere of a social network with a glance (macro)

Making domain-specific phicons can extend the affordance of the Gravitable. For instance, the placement of “to-do” items like a checkbook for paying bills or a book for reading could represent an agent with the capacity to dynamically increase in “mass” as an impending due date approaches, thus drawing an increasingly intense pattern and the attention of the viewer.

Aesthetic & Mechanic Inspiration

Bruce Shapiro’s Sisyphus series is the functional and aesthetic inspiration for Gravitable. Visually stunning algorithmic sand dunes are created using a steel ball bearing and a two-dimensional magnetic plotter concealed beneath the tabletop. This work taps into a strong geometric aesthetic, an age-old fascination with mechanisms of time and planetary motion and a modern mesmerization with computer visualizations. I believe this aesthetic can be used as an abstract, dynamic input/output device to explore a rich variety of information.

Download my Master’s Thesis, Crafting Meaning in Matter: an aesthetic approach to networked device design, that accompanies this project.

Dimensions: 40.00" x 40.00" x 17.00"

Media: Wood PHP MySQL Glass Arduino Sand


Gravitable Concept Rendering Gravitable Exhibition

Tags: Engineering Industrial Design Interaction Design Information Visualization Fabrication

Related Projects: Physical DOM Networked Squeeze Toy Internet of Things Photoresistor