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The DIY Underwater Camera, Interaction Research Studio
3rd September 2017

Q&A with Interaction Research Studio

With the aim of increasing appreciation for mysteries below the water’s surface, Interaction Research Studio has developed a DIY underwater camera that can be constructed from bits you’ll pick up around the house. On show as part of H2O-themed LDF show Water, which opens at Peckham’s Copeland Gallery on 19 September, the camera will be exhibited alongside snaps from London waterways and open source plans so visitors can construct their own.

Anyone that’s accidentally sent their phone for a swim, knows the value of a clip top jar. Immerse your soggy cell in one under a mound of rice and, if the gods of consumer electronics are smiling on you, you might just be able to turn it on again. But for Interaction Research Studio’s new project, a DIY underwater camera, the humble clip top jar becomes a tool for intentionally dunking your phone under the waves. Its waterproof seal becomes a perfect casing for an amphibious mobile, that can capture some of the hidden underwater wonders using a couple of household items.

Based at London university Goldsmiths, Interaction Research Studio is a multidisciplinary group set up to explore the design of computational systems in everyday life. Its previous projects have included indoor weather stations, a table that allows users to drift over arial photographs of their home landscape and a device that delivers short sentences from news sources and social media to solitary nuns allowing them to keep their prayers pertinent. The latter now resides in the MoMA’s permanent collection. 

A crucial part of Interaction Research Studio’s process involves asking volunteers to live with its designs to see how their experiences evolve. The Prayer Companion, for example, resided with a group of Clare nuns for five years for in-depth user testing. The DIY camera sits firmly in this vein, as a large part of the project has been developing open source plans so that visitors can make their own device. Ahead of the Water exhibition, we caught up from Bill Gaver from Interaction Research Studio to discuss the DIY camera and what they hope to discover. 

What is the camera made from?
It is designed to be easily constructed at home using materials available at nonspecialist shops and a smartphone. Household items currently include a clip top jar, a tea infuser, a pencil, some modelling clay and a brick. Slightly less-household (but still easily accessible) items include an old (or new) Android phone, a BBC Micro:bit, a servo, and a few wires.

What motivated you to make an underwater camera?
We’re interested in encountering nature in our immediate neighbourhoods. There are hundreds of waterways in London, from garden ponds to the Thames, each one an intriguing environment worth exploring. The idea is to provide an accessible, easy-to-make design letting anybody take a look. In part, this is an spin-off from a larger project we’ve been working on with a well-known natural history television series.
The Interactive Research Studio team
Convincing people to dunk their smartphone in the canal is going to be tricky! How will you assure people that they’re not going to destroy their phones?
Our design depends on a highly evolved technology for creating watertight enclosures that has been used for decades: the clip-top jar. Since we don’t need to run wires into the jar, nothing compromises its integrity so its very secure.

Why does creating DIY technologies like this appeal to you? Why is it important more generally?
DIY technologies are an alternative to commercial distribution for spreading ideas and opportunities. Coupling low cost technologies and tools for making allows a wide range of people to play with our designs — in the long run, this might help democratise design and technology and reduce inequalities of access. We hope it will be fun as well!

Visit Water at Copeland Gallery from 19 – 24 September. For more info visit www.waterexhibition.co.uk
The DIY Underwater Camera, Interaction Research Studio
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